Watching the ISS go by

Each morning at 5:45 am, I am up to take a morning walk or bike ride with the family dog.  About half the time, my older daughter gets up and walks with us.

Last night, I noticed that the ISS would be passing directly overhead this morning at 5:59 am (NASA has a special web site where you can check for opportunities to watch the ISS and Shuttle go overhead at your home – check it out here).  As I tucked in my older daughter last night, I suggested to her that she get up and watch it with me this morning.

We could not have asked for a more spectacular early morning.  The skies were perfectly clear, and dawn was just taking effect as we began walking.  The crescent moon was getting enough earthshine that we could see the outline of the dark portion (one of my favorite sights in the skies).

We knew exactly where and when to look for the the ISS, and suddenly – there it was.  A spectacularly brilliant light moving across the sky.  Brighter than any star (about the brightness of a commercial airliner’s landing lights), it tracked directly over our heads.  From horizon to horizon, the pass took about four minutes.

Not only was this fun in and of itself, this was an excellent opportunity to share the joy of science in action with my 7th grade daughter.  We had a great discussion while watching the ISS pass overhead about celestial mechanics, and how math makes it simple for people to be able to calculate exactly where the ISS (or anything else in orbit) will be at any moment in time.

I remember having a similar conversation with my father while standing in our front yard on a cold evening in Wisconsin.  Sputnik was passing overhead that day.  I’m proud to have passed on the experience to the next generation.

I wonder what my daughter will be showing her children in 2030 or 2040.


One response to “Watching the ISS go by”

  1. Geoffrey Little says :

    Hi Graham,
    Nice post. My childhood friend John M. mentioned your name just last week in an email and said he would make an introduction, but I just found your blog so thought I would meet you here.

    I write for Air & Space and have also taken my daughter out to see the shuttle hit MECOM and do some satellite spotting. I’ve covered Bigelow, SpaceX and others.

    I am now covering a contender for the Google Lunar X Prize that I’m very excited about. Drop me a line if you’d like to chat. They’d be very interested in meeting you.


    Geoffrey L.
    Stonington, CT

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