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ISS Turns Ten

On November 20, 1998, a bus-size hunk of electronics poetically named Zarya, Russian for “dawn,” blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The module was the first piece of the International Space Station, which after ten years and 29 construction deliveries is the largest spacecraft ever built, comparable in size to a five-bedroom house—albeit one that just happens to be orbiting Earth.


—Image courtesy NASA

Sadly, the tenth birthday of the ISS is marred by complications with aging shuttle technology, international chest thumping, and the global financial crisis.

Will the U.S. still have a stake in the ISS if we don’t have the space shuttle to make deliveries? Will Russia let us play nicely in the name of scientific collaboration? Will the incoming U.S. administration really want anything to do with such an expensive and controversial experiment?

Kinda puts a damper on the celebratory mood. But for anyone interested, you can go wave hi to the ISS on its birthday, courtesy of NASA’s Skywatch program.

This spiffy little Java app lets you enter your city or zip code and find out exactly when the ISS will pass over your head, including its rise, set, angle of elevation, and range in miles.

There’s even a button that shows you the path the station will take past some recognizable constellations and planets, as seen from your viewpoint.


—Image courtesy NASA

From my pad in Arlington, Virginia, I’ll be able to see the ISS swoop past Sagittarius—flitting by Venus and Jupiter as they make for their December 1 rendezvous—a few minutes after 6 p.m. (red dotted line).

If my balcony wasn’t under construction, I would so be out on it tomorrow night lighting a birthday candle and confusing my neighbors.