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20/11/2008

Space Station On View

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There's a rare chance this weekend to see space travel at first hand as the NASA shuttle Endeavour and the International Space Station are both together.

The shuttle and its seven astronauts blasted into orbit earlier this week on a mission to add a new level of space station construction to the only continually manned object orbiting the earth - and people in Northern Ireland can get a chance to see the action - simply observing from the ground.

Should meteorological conditions allow it, 'naked-eye' observers may even see the space ship alongside or adjacent to the 220-mile-high space station on Sunday.

Surprisingly for many, with the use of the right data, and by moving away from city-based light interference, an earth-bound observer can catch a glimpse of the action.

Thanks to websites, such as www.heavens-above.com - which provide free access for registered users for data on individual locations around the globe - area such as north Belfast and Newtownabbey are in the frame for this weekend - but only for a few minutes each time.

On Sunday, when the shuttle is with the ISS, anyone who can get away from bright lights - and allow time for their eyes to adjust - can look south west at 6.24pm for a 90 second window when the ISS will be at the right attitude and position.

Light from the setting sun refracts off the fast moving ISS - and hopefully the shuttle too - to provide a sight of what appears to be a very fast-moving 'star' that is briefly lit-up, before being absorbed into the night as it moves on around the globe.

There's further opportunities to view on Monday too and throughout the coming week as well, with longer 'windows', but the chance to see the shuttle joined with the ISS is a rare sight, and if all goes to plan, will be possible on Sunday evening.

The shuttle is on a mission to hook-up extra cooking and sleeping equipment as well as a new water recycling system so the station's crew can expand next year.

The space agency has just 10 shuttle flights, including this one, before the fleet is retired in 2010 to make way for a new rocketship capable of taking astronauts to the space station and, eventually, the moon.

See: www.heavens-above.com

See: www.nasa.gov/topics/shuttle_station/index.html

(BMcC)

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