We Saw It!
by Julie Musil
"View the International Space Station with the naked eye tonight," stated our local newspaper. The ISS would be seen in my hometown, Agua Dulce, California! My friends and I set up outside 15 minutes before it was due to cross our section of sky. The five of us laid on blankets, fanned out in a circle like spokes on a wheel. We each watched a slice above. Our binoculars and telescope were ready. The moon was almost full; just a sliver was hiding. The only sounds were our voices and an occasional barking dog.
"Is that it?" asked Garrett.
His older brother, Devin, looked through the binoculars. "No, that's an airplane. See the green and red lights?"
Their brother Blake announced, "I think that's it!"
Finally, there it was. It moved steadily across the darkness like the brightest of shooting stars. We jumped up, passed the binoculars around, and then peered through the telescope. We knew we had less than five minutes to view this wonder before it disappeared behind the mountain range.
What is the International Space Station? Also known as the ISS, it's like a giant science laboratory floating above Earth. The ISS is the largest man-made object in space. Once completed, the ISS will be almost as large as two football fields, side by side.
Construction on this marvel began in December of 1998. Participating in the ISS program are 16 nations including the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, Brazil, and several European countries. Aboard the ISS, astronauts from different countries live and work together. Space station crews study the Earth's environment and resources from a high vantage point. They conduct scientific research on materials and living things.
Besides work, what else does the crew do while floating out in space? They exercise, e-mail family and friends, and may even watch a DVD. One activity that never gets boring? Earth- gazing. Can you imagine watching Earth from space, witnessing a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes?
The crews work on the space station for three to six months at a time. For now, the United States' crew taxi to and from the ISS using the Space Shuttle. The Space Shuttle also contains a cargo hold which carries enormous parts for the ISS, along with food and other supplies for the crew. New ways of transportation are in development as the Space Shuttle fleet is due to retire.
Electrical power for the ISS is provided by solar panel "wings" which turn to face the sun. These panels convert the sun's energy into electricity. Once completed, the electrical power system will contain about eight miles of wire. On Earth, the electrical power system equipment alone would weigh 150,000 poundsabout the combined weight of six school buses.
The ISS travels over 200 miles above Earth at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour. That's over 290 miles per minute! Why that speed? It provides the right balance between flying off into space and falling down to Earth. The ISS fully orbits Earth every 90 minutes, about the length of a movie. Amazing!
After the ISS passed over our home, we couldn't stop smiling. We saw it! We were too excited to go inside. We laid back down on our blankets and watched the sky. Thin clouds drifted into view. They slowly covered where the ISS had traveled, like curtains closing after an amazing performance.
When will the ISS be visible over your section of sky? Be prepared. You won't want to miss the show!
Fun Facts & Projects:
||You can track the ISS. Visit their web site at: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html and click on "Do you know where your space station is?" It's fun to see where it is at any moment. Wait a few minutes, and then refresh your screen. You'll be amazed at how far it's traveled in such a short amount of time.
|When will the ISS be visible over your sky? From http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/sightings/ visit the section "Click here for Space Station sighting opportunities."
|Interested in hosting your own viewing party? Check out http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/sightings/planningguide.html for tips on planning your "Star Party."
||Want to know who's on board the ISS right now and what country they're from? From http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html view the section "Who's on the Station Now?"
||How far has the ISS traveled since you began reading this article? If it took you five minutes to read the article, the International Space Station has travelled about 1,450 miles. That's almost the same distance between Los Angeles, California and Dallas, Texas!
Aldrin, Buzz. Look to the Stars. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2009.
Cowles, Rose. The Amazing International Space Station. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press Ltd., 2003.
Jefferis, David. ISS: International Space Station. NY: Tangerine Press, 2002.
Mansfield, Cheryl L. "A Station Celebration." 10/5/09.
NASA.gov "Interesting Facts." http://cio.gsfc.nasa.gov/pdf/167128main_Facts.pdf
Julie Musil is the author of stories and articles for children. Her favorite days are those spent with her husband and three sons. Add a good book, a blank sheet of paper, and a sharp pencil and shes happy. With three boys at home, stories bounce off her walls every day. You may visit Julie's website @ www.juliemusil.com.