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This artist's concept shows the International Space Station passing above the straits of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean Sea after all assembly is completed in 2003. The completed station will be powered by almost an acre of solar panels and have a mass of almost 1 million pounds. The pressurized volume of the station will be roughly equivalent to the space inside two jumbo jets.

International Space Station

Web sites developed by both NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, are making it easy and exciting for enthusiasts across the country and around the world to catch a glimpse of the International Space Station.

Marshall’s “Liftoff to Space Exploration” web site, http://liftoff.msfc.nasa.gov/, and Johnson’s Skywatch web site, http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/sightings/ let you identify the orbiting space station—and determine, in advance, when it will pass over your hometown.

Orbiting at more than 200 miles above the Earth, the Space Station is quickly growing into one of the brightest permanent fixtures in the night sky. Currently made up of the American module “Unity” and the Russian section “Zarya,” the station circles the planet approximately 16 times per day, traveling at 17,500 mph in an orbit.

Because it reflects sunlight, the space station often looks like a slow-moving star as it crosses the sky. That deceptive appearance can fool a casual viewer, but it also makes sighting the station easier if one knows when and where to look. The best time to catch a glimpse of the space station is near dawn or dusk, when the viewer is in near-darkness and the passing station continues to reflect light from the rising or setting Sun.

NASA’s web sites provide users with optimal visibility times for their locations. Viewed under optimal conditions, the station has been observed to appear nearly as bright as the star Sirius. When construction is complete, estimates suggest the 470-ton “city in space” will be brighter than the planet Venus.

Access to both NASA web sites requires a Java-enabled browser, such as recent versions of Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer. For viewers without a Java-enabled browser, the web sites include other methods for obtaining sighting information. Johnson’s Skywatch site contains a text-only list of sighting opportunities, while Marshall’s site features an automated mailing list option. Subscribers to the list—more than 8,000 to date—are notified by e-mail of upcoming satellite passes.

The International Space Station is a cooperative endeavor by the United States and 15 other nations. It is the largest international space construction effort in history.


Walter Scott Houston

Many EAS members knew the beloved “Deep Sky Wonders” author, Walter Scott Houston. Lewis Epstein has received word of updated plans to honor him with a significant project of benefit to the amateur astronomy community. Original plans were for a sundial on the Wesleyan University campus in Middletown, Connecticut, but the estimated cost proved to be too ambitious; and an alternative project has been chosen to honor Houston’s memory.

Professor William Herbst of the Astronomy Department at Wesleyan wrote: “We plan to … renovate the 20-inch Clark refractor at the [Van Vleck] Observatory so that it can be used by amateur astronomers to enjoy the sky, as Walter Scott Houston himself used the telescope on many occasions. This project has the blessing of the Astronomy Department at Wesleyan, the Astronomical Society of Greater Hartford and Miriam Houston, who writes: ‘A handsome sundial would certainly enhance the campus … But a plan so folks could have help and company while looking at the stars … that reflects my husband's life-long devotion.’”

Freely ranging over all aspects of his favorite science, his popular columns in Sky & Telescope were instrumental in teaching amateur astronomers what marvelous things can be seen in our skies, and how to understand and enjoy this great celestial panorama. Scotty died in 1993.

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