Spot the International Space Station and Feel like a Kid Again


Earlier this winter, I was browsing the internet for project ideas on a (bitterly cold) Saturday evening.  I had plenty of ideas, but nothing was standing out to me.  Then I went back to basics.  I made a list of all the things I used to love to do as a child.  The list read something like “read, write, music, space, build forts, ice skate“.  It was a truly inspired list (read the sarcasm here!).

I keyed in on space since that felt like something I could research without getting up to do things like find my kindle.  Quickly, my googling led a path to the International Space Station (ISS).  OMG.  This thing is cool.

5 things that you might be surprised to learn about the ISS:

  1. It orbits the Earth once in 90 minutes.  That’s equivalent to about 15-16 sunsets and sunrises per day.
    • My first thought:  WHAT?!
    • My second thought:  Why can we orbit the Earth in 90 minutes, but it takes me 2 hours to fly from Columbus to NYC?  Future project:  Figure out how to orbit the Earth for commercial travel.
  2. It’s traveling 17,000 miles per hour.
  3. 184 space walks contributed to its assembly.
    • You might think, “Wait.  If I stick my hand out the window of a 55mph car it gets blown around pretty good…”.  Remember, there is no atmosphere up there.  Still.  It’s tough for me to imagine what it must be like to do a space walk on a craft going that fast.
  4. ISS weighs almost 1 million pounds.
  5. The ISS went from an altitude of 220 miles to 248 a few years ago in order to decrease its fuel need by half.   28 miles difference to decrease the fuel by half??  Space is cool.  This is actually a delicate balance between reducing the need for propulsion to correct any loss of speed (and therefore altitude),  impacting the amount of cargo visiting vehicles can bring to the ISS, and minimizing radiation exposure of those on board.

Here is the project part:  Did you know that you can SEE the ISS from Earth?  I quickly looked up Columbus, OH and found that the ISS was going to be visible for 90 seconds that very night.  Thoughts of the bitter cold (-10 wind chill) took a backseat to seeing the ISS!  I grabbed my iPhone, installed Sky View (iOS app), threw on multiple layers, and dragged my husband out to stare at the sky.  There were clouds.  I didn’t see it.

However, months later, luck was on my side.  On a night that was a nice 40 degrees, the ISS was projected to be visible for 6 minutes.  This meant that it was going to be very high in the sky and as long as the clouds held out, we’d catch a glimpse.

We did.  And it was amazing.  It looked like the brightest plane in the sky without any blinking lights.  As it made its way across the sky, I felt like a kid again and was reminded of how small and inconsequential some of our day to day problems can be.  They aren’t worth having experiences like this go missed.

Follow these steps to catch the ISS:

  1. Look up your location for a list of times when the ISS will be available in your area.
  2. Keep an eye on the weather and look for a clear night.  It’s bright, but not bright enough to show through clouds! :)
  3. 6 minute viewing windows are best because the ISS will be highest in the sky… which will ensure no houses are in the way.
  4. Download an app that will help you track where to keep your eyes glued.  I use Sky View which seems to work when the ISS is below the horizon only.  That’s OK because it helps with which way to face initially.

Have fun!  Drop me a comment if you have any questions or caught a glimpse yourself!



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