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Just before 6 p.m. last night, I went with Carol Mangis and Yun-San Tsai to Madison Square Park, a few blocks south of our office, to watch the spaceships fly over. Before you send for the men with the butterfly nets, hear me out: It’s easy to watch large spacecraft such as the Shuttle or a space station if you know where to look. I had watched many passes of the International Space Station (ISS), MIR, Space Shuttles and other spacecraft over the years. The Heavens Above Web site gives local predictions for satellite passes; it showed me that the ISS was due to pass over New York City starting at 6:00 and completing its passage 3 minutes later. The Space Shuttle Discovery had undocked from the ISS less than an hour before, and I suspected that they would be visible as two bright, slowly-moving “stars” very close to each other. (I had actually watched the docked pair fly over the previous night; it was very bright and easy to see.) More after the jump…

Post by Tony Hoffman

I brought two cameras to try to photograph the Shuttle and ISS: One was a Canon SD630, mounted on a GorillaPod. I wrapped the legs of that bendable tripod around a bench until it seemed secure and unlikely to wobble during the 4-second exposure I had set the camera for.

I also brought my Canon Digital Rebel XTi and an Orion tripod. The trouble is that I had left the shoe that attaches camera to tripod at home, so I had no way of fastening the two together–so I thought. But Carol came through with the MonsterPod , with which you can fasten a camera to many surfaces using a “viscoelastic morphing polymer” (translation: orange gunk with the consistency of Silly Putty). It seemed to hold my DSLR to the tripod securely, so we were ready to go.

6 p.m. came and went. I had a rough idea of where the ISS/Shuttle would appear, and sure enough, by 6:02 a bright, slowly moving light had emerged from the trees. The Space Station and Shuttle were apparently still so close together that they appeared as a single light to the naked eye, though it appeared elongated to me as if one craft were following the other. But they were still too close together to be distinctly seen (usually they decelerate the Shuttle so that it trails the ISS as it prepares to drop out of orbit). We took several photos which showed the trail of the ISS/Shuttle as it moved through the long exposure, and both tripod setups seemed to work reasonably well. The ISS/Shuttle reached its peak altitude (almost halfway from horizon to zenith), then abruptly disappeared as it passed into Earth’s shadow.

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The small blue streak next to Carol’s head is the shuttle.


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