Category Archives: Space

ISS Passes Orion’s Belt

Earlier in the day on 2 Feb, my phone notified me that the ISS would pass nearly overhead and go through Taurus and Orion a few minutes after 6:30 pm. I prepared my iPad with the NightCap app. I placed it on the sidewalk in front of the house and started the exposure.

Four minutes and sixteen seconds later I got this result. Not only the ISS, but three airplanes passed by as indicated by the blinking lights. One of them is hidden in the tree branches lower right. While I watched the ISS pass overhead, I noticed a very faint object moving a short distance ahead of it, in the same direction, and almost on the same line. It was barely visible and left a faint trace on the image. This version of the image might not show it. My original image does show it faintly.

NightCap ISS mode, 256 second exposure, 1/2s shutter speed

My photo compared well to the predicted path provided by


ISS and More

Busy sky last night.

How I See It

Evening arrived with very clear sky and mild temperature. It was the last night of winter. The International Space Station was due to pass directly overhead from SW to NE. It would pass near the Moon, Mars, Taurus and Orion. The iPad was set with NightCap app to record for about 3 minutes. After recording the scene, I enjoyed some telescope time.

iPad with NightCap in ISS mode, 171.75 sec exposure

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Chased By A Dragon

I watched with great interest the SpaceX-NASA launch of two astronauts from Florida on Saturday 30 May 2020. Since I was about 10 yrs old, I have been fascinated with spaceflight. The launch Saturday was the first time since 2011 the U.S. has launched our astronauts into orbit. We’ve have contracted those efforts to Russia. The Space Shuttle was our previous launch vehicle.

Launch of the Dragon spacecraft was successful and on-time. Bob and Doug were on their way to the International Space Station for a docking one day later. Doug’s previous flight to ISS was on the last Shuttle mission in 2011. The ISS passed over Florida at the time of launch which placed both vehicles into similar orbits. That made the time much shorter for Dragon to catch ISS.

I received an email notice a few days earlier telling me the ISS was to pass directly over my location Saturday. Since it was the evening after the launch, there was a possibility I could also see the Dragon capsule with Bob and Doug pass over me. Skies were clear. I set up the iPad with the NightCap app set to record a long time exposure. Maybe it would record both light trails.

The Big Dipper was high in the sky. The ISS came over some trees shining bright with reflected sunlight. It passed over and disappeared. One minute later I saw a small dim speck of light following the same path. It was the Dragon chasing the ISS. I kept the camera exposure going with the hope it would record the trail of Dragon. Unfortunately, Dragon’s trail was perfectly lined up with ISS and embedded in the bright trail. But, I did see it clearly with my eyes.

Taken with iPad and NightCap | ISS mode | 363 sec

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National Museum of the Air Force

by Melanie and Jim 

You may have seen some of our posts about our travel to Yellowstone and back. That’s only one of the four road trips we’ve done in the past few weeks. Recently we also headed the other direction, to southern Ohio. On the way we visited the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton.

The museum has a number of galleries inside. The interior collections include the early years of flight, aircraft from World Wars One and Two, Korea and Vietnam, and current times. There are cargo planes, a variety of fighters and spy planes, intercontinental missiles, and experimental craft. Presidential and other executive transport planes, space travel, and Cold War air memorabilia are shown. Outside the huge hangars are more planes and a memorial park.

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Smithsonian | Udvar-Hazy Center

by Jim and Melanie

When we get a chance, we enjoy visiting the National Mall in Washington, DC. Over time we’ve experienced many of the museums and monuments. The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is one we have visited several times. It is full of thousands of artifacts documenting the history of aviation and space exploration. Did you know about their companion facility the Udvar-Hazy Center? It is located near Dulles airport west of the DC area in Chantilly, VA. It consists of two hangars with some iconic space and aviation exhibits. We finally got to visit and urge you to do the same if you have an interest in aviation and space.


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The Mercury 13

by Melanie

Have you ever heard of the Mercury 13? I hadn’t until recently. While visiting an air and space museum, I noticed an exhibit on this amazing group of aerospace pioneers.

In 1959 NASA began the process of identifying the nation’s first astronauts. From an applicant pool of more than 500 men, extensive physical and mental exams led to selecting the first seven astronauts. All of them were military pilots, and they were known as the “Mercury 7.”

A doctor who helped develop the tests for those men, Dr. W. Randolph Lovelace, wondered how women would perform on the same tests. In 1960, he began a study to find out. He invited a noted female pilot, Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb, to participate in his study. After she passed all three phases of testing, other women pilots were invited into the study.

According to Wally Funk, one of those selected, “The women were to be under 35 years of age, in good health, hold a second class medical, four year college education, a commercial rating or better and have over 2,000 hours of flying time.” Many of the pilots were members of a group called the “Ninety-Nines,” an organization established in 1929 of female pilots, which continues to this day.

Thirteen women, the Mercury 13, passed the tests available and were chosen to continue in the program. They were Jerrie Cobb, Wally Funk, Irene Leverton, Myrtle “K” Cagle, Janey Hart, Gene Nora Stumbough (Jessen), Jerri Sloan (Truhill), Rhea Hurrle (Woltman), Sarah Gorelick (Ratley), Bernice “B” Trimble Steadman, Jan Dietrich, Marion Dietrich and Jean Hixson.

Unfortunately, the women and their program were never officially part of NASA. Twelve of the 13 were not allowed to complete the Phase III testing. Their program was cancelled.

After lobbying of both President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson, congressional hearings were held in 1962 about the gender discrimination involved in canceling the program. According to WIRED Magazine,

The would-be Mercury 13 astronauts would ultimately be held to a different standard than their male counterparts. Some NASA officials speculated that female performance could be impaired by menstruation. Others wanted pilots who had already flown experimental military aircraft — something only men could have done, since women were barred from the Air Force.

It was not until Sally Ride‘s shuttle flight in 1983 that an American woman flew into space. This despite the qualifications of thirteen remarkable women more than 20 years earlier.

Members of the First Lady Astronaut Trainees (FLATs, also known as the “Mercury 13”), these seven women who once aspired to fly into space stand outside Launch Pad 39B near the Space Shuttle Discovery in this photograph from 1995. The so-called Mercury 13 was a group of women who trained to become astronauts for America’s first human spaceflight program in the early 1960s. Although FLATs was never an official NASA program, the commitment of these women paved the way for others who followed. Visiting the space center as invited guests of STS-63 Pilot Eileen Collins, the first female shuttle pilot and later the first female shuttle commander, are (from left): Gene Nora Jessen, Wally Funk, Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Truhill, Sarah Rutley, Myrtle Cagle and Bernice Steadman. Image credit: NASA

Pluto | Discoveries by New Horizons

How I See It

My previous post about the New Horizons flyby of Pluto was dated a few hours before the event of 14 July 2015. Communication with Earth by the spacecraft was turned off so it could execute a large number of commands during the few hours of flyby. The data is to be transmitted to Earth in the months to come. Late in the day, New Horizons phoned home to say it was healthy and did succeed in carrying out the commands. It continues to gather data and return data sets each day. Where is New Horizons now? It is coasting beyond Pluto into the Kuiper Belt. It has more work to do.

There are 50 gigabytes of data stored onboard. It will take 500 days to send it to Earth. People wonder why it will take so long? They want to see the results NOW! Here is the answer from…

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Asteroid Flyby | Did You Miss It?

How I See It

Asteroid 2004 BL86 traveled by Earth January 26, 2015. It was about 3x farther from Earth than our Moon. There was no danger. It was an interesting event. It happened during the daylight hours for me. It was also clouded over. There was no chance to see it with my own equipment. So, I visited an online broadcast from Europe. The Virtual Telescope Project successfully tracked it.

The event was hosted by Gian Masi, astrophysicist and science communicator. They posted a 28 minute YouTube video. Broken clouds interrupted the view at times. Their telescope tracked the asteroid at the center of the window. A 10 second time exposure captured an image. Each 15 seconds, a new image was scanned over the old one. The asteroid remains centered. The star field moves slightly. I extracted a brief clip from one cloud-free interval if you don’t want to watch the entire…

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Space Music | Data Sonification

How I See It

Data streams from experiments as 1 and 0 digits. It arrives at very high rates and is stored for later study. From spacecraft, it is used to make images, produce video, and make sense of the universe. Analysis of the digits simply as visual information is great for most of us. Think of the images from Hubble. But, there are other ways we humans are equipped to perceive our world. These rich data sources can also be converted into sounds. Such a process is called data sonification.

Here is an audio file example (20 sec) from U of IA researcher Don Gurnett. It is called a whistler. They result from lightning strikes which send electromagnetic waves along the magnetic field lines of Earth. This image is the spectrum of a whistler comparing frequency to time of signal. The audio adds a lot to the interpretation of this…

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