When I was a kid my parents would take us to Cape Canaveral to watch the Space Shuttle launch. I remember waiting for hours in the hot Florida sun only to find out that the mission was delayed for another day. I also remember watching several night launches where the sky would light up like there was a fire in the sky. The space program was always a part of our lives and a part that I’m glad my parents shared with me.
When my son was born and we moved to Florida I was excited to be able to let him experience the space program himself. While the shuttle programs are now canceled, he did get to see 2 shuttle launches at the Cape and a few were visible here in the Bay area. I will never forget sitting out by our pool trying to catch a glimpse of the shuttle as it took off for it’s next mission. It was a sad day in our family when the program ended.
A few months ago a friend of mine posted about seeing the International Space Station as it flew overhead. I had no idea that the Space Station orbits the Earth 16 times a day; once every 90 minutes. It’s actually the 3rd brightest object in the sky; after the sun and moon. Best part? It’s visible with the naked eye!
How do you know when and where to look? You can sign up for text or email alerts from NASA and they will notify you a few hours before it passes by your area. (Sign up at Spot the Station) Every few weeks (sometimes more/sometimes less) you will receive notification of when and where to look.
My most recent message looked like this:
Time: Sun Apr 28 8:47 PM, Visible: 4 min, Max Height: 83 degrees, Appears: NW, Disappears: SE
What does all that mean? On the date and time on the message you’ll want to go outside. I use the Compass App on my iPhone to find the location in which it will appear and guess at the degrees (or height in the sky). It will be moving rather quickly; like a fast moving plane. It’s slower than a shooting star but faster than a plane. Once you see it the first time you’ll know what you are looking for. Of course it is easier to see it on a clear night with no (or few) clouds.
It’s a great time to sit outside and look at stars with your kids. It is very easy to turn this into a teachable moment and incorporate math, science, social studies, geography, and map skills. My son always asks for a telescope to look at the stars with, I guess I know what to get him for his next birthday.
Don’t forget to sign up for text/email alerts at Spot the Station so you can share this with your family. If you follow me on Twitter I’ll post an alert when it’s orbiting over the Tampa Bay area. I’m @TheEcoChic and I’ll use the hashtag #spotthestation.
Were you lucky enough to ever see a shuttle launch? Have you ever seen the Space Station go by?