Heads up! Space Station flyby Sunday evening
The International Space Station is back in our evening skies, and on Sunday evening the big contraption will be flying up the East Coast and almost directly over Baltimore. (And even more directly over Ocean City.)
The weather forecast is quite promising for this pass, and the station will appear especially bright, even in badly light-polluted urban settings. It's also a convenient early-evening pass, so sky watchers will have no excuse not to step outside with the kids and get a look at your (and their) tax dollars at play.
The only hitch is that on this pass the ISS will fly into the Earth's shadow and disappear well before reaching the northeast horizon, cutting short our view, which of course depends entirely on sunlight reflecting off the hardware.
Watch for the station as it rises above the southwest horizon at 6:14 p.m. It will appear like a bright star, hustling across the sky. If you see blinking strobes, multiple or colored lights, that's a airplane. Keep looking.
The ISS will pass well above the planet Jupiter, which is now the brightest object in the southern sky. It will reach a maximum elevation of 70 degrees above the southeastern horizon at 6:17 p.m., and soon after that fade quickly away as it enters the Earth's shadow - another brief nighttime for crew aboard the station.
There are currently six crew members aboard the ISS. They include two Americans (one male, one female); two Russians; one Belgian (the first European expedition commander) and one Canadian, all male.
They are currently preparing for the scheduled arrival of the Space Shuttle Atlantis on Nov. 16. The flight, to deliver spare parts to the station, is one of the last six shuttle flights on the NASA manifest before the fleet is retired in 2010. After that, under current plans, the U.S. will have to rely on Russian vehicles to support the station and its crew.
Note to Bucket Listers: If you have never seen a shuttle launch in person, start planning now to get down to Florida to watch one of these spectacular events before it's too late. TV images of a shuttle launch do not do the experience justice. You can't see that blinding flame, hear the crackling engines, or feel the sound in your chest.
And, with the cameras focused on the shuttle, you lose all sense of the space ship's acceleration and speed as it leaps into the air and disappears from view. You simply can't believe that people willingly ride that monster. Be there.