Ground Control to Major Tom – NASA Night Space Shuttle Flight

According to a Space.com feature, NASA had to reschedule their most recent space flight from Feb 4rth, to this Sunday Feb 7th. This may the last opportunity to witness a night flight for a long time to come both because of its rarity in the general protocol of spaceflight, but also because of NASA’s uncertain future with changes introduced to their budgeting by President Obama. The shuttle will blast off in the wee hours of the morning and will be visible along much of the Eastern Coast somewhere around 4:30 Eastern Standard Time.  According to the website:

“What to expect

The brilliant light emitted by the two solid rocket boosters will be visible for the first 2 minutes and 4 seconds of the launch out to a radius of some 520 statute miles from the Kennedy Space Center – an area more than three times the size of Texas.

Depending on where you are located relative to Cape Canaveral, Endeavour will become visible anywhere from a few seconds to just over 2 minutes after it leaves Pad 39-A. For an example of what all this looks like from Florida, see video of a night launch made by Rob Haas from Titusville, FL, on Dec. 9, 2006 (the STS-116 mission).

After the solid rocket boosters are jettisoned, Endeavour will be visible for most locations by virtue of the light emanating from its three main engines. It should appear as a very bright, pulsating, fast-moving star, shining with a yellowish-orange glow. Based on previous night missions, the brightness should be at least equal to magnitude -2; rivaling Sirius, the brightest star in brilliance. Observers who train binoculars on the shuttle should be able to see its tiny V-shaped contrail.

Where to look

* Southeast U.S. coastline: Anywhere north of Cape Canaveral, viewers should initially concentrate on the south-southwest horizon. If you are south of the Cape, look low toward the north-northeast. If you’re west of the Cape, look low toward the east-northeast.

* Mid-Atlantic region: Look toward the south about 3 to 6 minutes after launch.

* Northeast: Concentrate your gaze low toward the south-southeast about 6 to 8 minutes after launch.

For most viewers, the shuttle will appear to literally skim the horizon, so be sure there are no buildings or trees to obstruct your view.

Depending upon your distance from the coastline, the shuttle will be relatively low on the horizon (5 to 15 degrees; your fist on an outstretched arm covers about 10 degrees of sky). If you’re positioned near the edge of a viewing circle, the shuttle will barely come above the horizon and could be obscured by low clouds or haze.

If the weather is clear, the shuttle should be easy to see. It will appear to move very fast; much faster than an orbiting satellite due to its near orbital velocity at low altitudes (30-60 mi). It basically travels across 90 degrees of azimuth in less than a minute.”

What to expect

The brilliant light emitted by the two solid rocket boosters will be visible for the first 2 minutes and 4 seconds of the launch out to a radius of some 520 statute miles from the Kennedy Space Center – an area more than three times the size of Texas.

Depending on where you are located relative to Cape Canaveral, Endeavour will become visible anywhere from a few seconds to just over 2 minutes after it leaves Pad 39-A.  For an example of what all this looks like from Florida, see video of a night launch made by Rob Haas from Titusville, FL, on Dec. 9, 2006 (the STS-116 mission).

After the solid rocket boosters are jettisoned, Endeavour will be visible for most locations by virtue of the light emanating from its three main engines. It should appear as a very bright, pulsating, fast-moving star, shining with a yellowish-orange glow. Based on previous night missions, the brightness should be at least equal to magnitude -2; rivaling Sirius, the brightest star in brilliance. Observers who train binoculars on the shuttle should be able to see its tiny V-shaped contrail.

Observer James E. Byrd shot video of the shuttle from Virginia after a November 2000 night launch. The bright star Sirius briefly streaks through the scene giving a sense of scale and brightness to the shuttle’s glow.

Where to look

  • Southeast U.S. coastline: Anywhere north of Cape Canaveral, viewers should initially concentrate on the south-southwest horizon. If you are south of the Cape, look low toward the north-northeast. If you’re west of the Cape, look low toward the east-northeast.
  • Mid-Atlantic region: Look toward the south about 3 to 6 minutes after launch.
  • Northeast: Concentrate your gaze low toward the south-southeast about 6 to 8 minutes after launch.

For most viewers, the shuttle will appear to literally skim the horizon, so be sure there are no buildings or trees to obstruct your view.

Depending upon your distance from the coastline, the shuttle will be relatively low on the horizon (5 to 15 degrees; your fist on an outstretched arm covers about 10 degrees of sky). If you’re positioned near the edge of a viewing circle, the shuttle will barely come above the horizon and could be obscured by low clouds or haze.

If the weather is clear, the shuttle should be easy to see. It will appear to move very fast; much faster than an orbiting satellite due to its near orbital velocity at low altitudes (30-60 mi). It basically travels across 90 degrees of azimuth in less than a minute.

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