On Tuesday morning, the beginning of the era of private spaceflight began as Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) launched its Dragon capsule to theInternational Space Station (ISS) atop the company’s Falcon rocket. For both SpaceX and NASA, this is major news in that, if all goes well, SpaceX stands to make a lot of money while NASA is free to concentrate on deep space missions, handing over low-Earth orbit to the private sector.
Littler known fact about the mission: the ashes of over 300 people, including actor James Doohan, who played Scotty on the original Star Trek, were aboardfor the ride. This final ride for Doohan and others was a joint venture between SpaceX and Celestis,. A company that launches dead peoples’ ashes into space for ‘memorial spaceflights.’ According to SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell, the ashes were aboard the rocket’s second stage and not in the Dragon capsule, which is carrying over 1,000 pounds of cargo to the ISS.
Now, while the Dragon lifted off from Florida, people all of the world can see it.
Thanks to the wizards at websites Spaceweatherand Heavens Above, anyone on the world can get Dragon flyby times for their particular world location. So, now that we know where to look, when will the Dragonby coming to a sky near you?
For starters, go to either of the websites, which are very easy to use. On Spaceweather’s satellite tracker, all one has to do is enter in their United States or Canadian zip code, hit the button, and presto, satellite flyby times for the shuttle, the ISS, and many other interesting, man-made satellites. Going to Heavens Above, the process can be a little more complicated. If you know your geographic coordinates (latitude and longitude), enter them in and you’ll get a whole menu of things in the sky. Don’t know where you live in terms of coordinates? Then go through the location database to select your city (or one near you) in order to get the same data.
Note, on Heavens Above, the website uses a 24 hour clock, so 22:00 is really 10pm, so be aware of this.
Now, once Dragon, ISS, and whatever else flyby times are known, plan some observing or, for even more fun, satellite photography. Clear skies and good luck.
Oh, by the way, here’s a list of Dragon flybys for the Cleveland area:
May 24: 4:51am, look West, maximum elevation of 44 degrees and magnitude of +1.9
May 25: 3:50am, look East-Southeast, maximum elevation of 71 degrees, magnitude +1.1
May 26: 4:20am, look West, maximum elevation of 33 degrees, magnitude +2.5
May 27: 3:19am, look North-Northeast, maximum elevation of 44 degrees, magnitude +1.9
Lastly, the weather is something to be considered. Astronomy always a weather-allowing pursuit, be sure to keep an eye on the Cleveland weather forecast and, for hour-by-hour cloud predictions, the Cleveland Clear Sky Clock. The good news: this is a multi-day show, which increases the odds of catching a good view at least one of the nights. Live somewhere else? Find a clock and see if it will be clear near you.
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