Watch the Space Shuttle



Next scheduled launch: 8th of December, 03:35 swedish time

Scrubbed because of lousy weather.




New time: 10th of December, 02:47 swedish time

Discovery has left the building...





This page is only available in English because I'm way too lazy to make another version in Swedish...


Here are some links to help you watch the space shuttle, both

So why do I care about space shuttles, and why do I want other people to care? Neither me nor anyone who reads this is ever going to become an astronaut... but I simply think it's very important for mankind to have a vision of something bigger and more exciting than the life we already know of, and I think space exploration is a much healthier thing to be amazed by than for instance religion... I'm not going to be more philosophical than that ;-)


So, where to begin... yes, concerning hobbits... sorry, wrong book. Concerning space shuttles. There are currently three in operation: Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour. Two more have been in existence: Columbia, which was destroyed during landing in 2003, and Challenger, which was destroyed during lift-off in 1986. (On both occasions seven astronauts were killed.) You can read a lot more about it on the net, this is just a short introduction.


The space shuttles are operated by NASA, who I think have a very substantial web site. Unfortunately I also find it slightly hard to navigate through, and sometimes they also move pages without changing the links, so this particular page is simply an attempt to link directly to some useful stuff. Feel free to tell me if any links here have become outdated. You are also welcome to offer criticism on the page or suggest other nice links.


The main entrance is of course
http://www.nasa.gov
That page changes in appearance quite frequently.


The subsection concerning the space shuttle program can be found on
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/index.html
There you can follow a countdown clock when there are a few days remaining before a launch.


This page is one of my favourites. It shows the future planned launches. Since space flight is a rather costly and difficult business, every flight is usually planned several years ahead.
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/iss_manifest.html
The first swedish astronaut is scheduled to launch on STS-116. Click on the numbers to get more details about the upcoming flights.


When it's time for launch you can watch it in (almost) live transmission here:
http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html
Click on the links in the grey box to open a player window. Personally I think that RealPlayer works better than WindowsMediaPlayer, i.e. less "lagging".


It should be pointed out that rocket launches are in fact dangerous activities. Accidents have happened before, and might happen again. There is a classical anecdote, which might very well be true, about one of the Apollo astronauts (the lunar program i.e.) who was asked by a young reporter if he was nervous before the flight. "Nervous? Sitting on top of a 300 foot rocket, loaded with 4 million pounds of highly explosive fuel. The rocket itself consists of 1 million parts, everyone delivered by the lowest bidder. What could possibly go wrong?"
As mentioned above, the Challenger shuttle blew up during lift-off in 1986, and although that disaster did result in improved security one can never reach 100% reliability. If you are worried about the risk of seeing people die in realtime (but be assured that everyone on board is very well aware of the risks they're taking) you can watch a recording of a previous flight here:
http://www.nasa.gov/returntoflight/multimedia/RTF_videos_search_agent_archive_2.html

The Challenger accident can be seen here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZy8YC7QBvc





There is a great site at
http://www.heavens-above.com
where one can get information about how to actually see the space shuttle as it orbits the earth.

Begin by choosing "Select your location...", then chose country and enter the name of your town. Then you can see where the shuttle is at every given time, although that option is not available when it is still on the ground. But to get an idea what it is about you can instead click on ISS, which is an acronym for International Space Station.

(The shuttles are currently scheduled for retirement in 2010, but the primary objective of (almost) all the remaining shuttle flights is to complete the space station, hence the two vehicles are usually orbiting together.)

At the ISS page you can see the date and time when the space station is viewable from your location, in which direction and how high above the horizon it gets. The station looks like a bright star moving across the sky in a few minutes. Since the inclination of its orbit is only 51.6 degrees, it is difficult to see it if you're living to far from the equator. Here in the south of Sweden it is not viewable very often :-(

When the shuttle is "airborne" and on its way to dock with the station, you can find similar data for the shuttle as for the station. The docking ususally takes place a few days after launch, and if you are lucky to see both vehicles a few hours before docking you can be happy ;-) It looks like two stars chasing each other across the sky, the brighter one being the shuttle. An interesting view...

Heavens-above contains quite a lot of other stuff for space nerds as well... For instance, look under "Iridium flares" to find out when you can expect to see one of the communication satellites in the Iridium system. When they "flare", it means that they reflect sunlight in your direction for a few seconds. Look at the column called "Intensity" (magnitude) to find the good ones. The bigger negative number the brighter they are. Magnitude -1 equals the brightest stars, -4 equals Venus at its brightest, and magnitude -8 basically looks like an asteroid coming to wipe out organic life on planet Earth... The position is very important when watching Iridium flares; if possible you should try to find your exact longitude and latitude, then enter those coordinates manually.

You can also chose "Whole sky chart" to see the sky from your (or any other) location at any given moment.