[sarex] Shuttle will play starring role in night sky
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Wed Dec 6 13:32:23 PST 2006
SUBMITTED BY ARTHUR N1ORC - AMSAT A/C #31468
Permission granted by The Eagle Tribune N. Andover. Mass. to use this
Shuttle will play starring role in night sky
By Courtney Paquette
Residents who step into their backyards and gaze at the sky tomorrow
night could see the space shuttle - perhaps for one of the last times.
Discovery will be launched tomorrow from the Kennedy Space Center to
hook up with the International Space Station.
Because Discovery is lifting off at night and following a flight plan
that directs it over New Hampshire, residents will be able to see the
flames from its engines between seven and eight minutes after it leaves
the launch pad at 9:35 p.m. Thursday December 7th,2006
"You'll see a moderately fast-moving yellow star," said Peter Bealo of
Plaistow, an amateur astronomer. "It'll look like a very bright airplane."
"It should be the brightest thing in the sky, except for the moon," said
James Ryan, a physics professor at the University of New Hampshire.
It is a rare night launch for NASA. The last one was four years ago,
when the space shuttle Columbia lifted off in the evening to work on the
A shuttle's launch time is determined by where it needs to be in space
and when it needs to return to Earth, Ryan said. Night launches are rare
because daytime launches allow for easier landings and access to
alternative landing sites if something goes wrong, he said.
Daytime launches also allow NASA to get better pictures of what's
happening to the shuttle. That is why night launches were halted after
the Columbia accident in 2003 that killed seven astronauts. A piece of
foam broke off during the launch and damaged the ship, causing it to
break up upon re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere.
All those elements make this nighttime launch special, and maybe one of
"There's only another 10 to 12 shuttle launches anyhow for the whole
program," Bealo said. "On average, there's one night launch out of eight
After liftoff, Discovery begins a 12-day mission to rendezvous with and
work on the International Space Station, according to David McDonald,
education director at the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium in Concord.
Discovery's crew will install solar panels on the space station, which
is supposed to be completed by 2010. That's when NASA plans to
decommission the shuttle fleet.
Discovery also will swap one crew member, he said.
The launch, Bealo said, could be scrubbed because of bad weather.
Yesterday, NASA said the chances of weather favorable for a launch were
Good weather, clear skies and a view of a flat southern horizon are key
to seeing the launch from spots in New Hampshire, Bealo said. He invites
others to come to Timberlane Regional High School and watch it from the
fields behind the school with him.
For the viewing audience
* Make sure to be outside seven minutes after the launch at 9:35 p.m.
That's when the flames from the shuttle's engines will be visible.
* Using binoculars will allow you to see the shuttle for another 30
* Looking to the south in an area where there are few trees and little
artificial light will provide for optimum viewing. Good places to see
the shuttle include Timberlane Regional High School athletic field,
Hampton Beach, and Wingaersheek Beach in Gloucester, Mass.
* Those who would rather "fly" the space shuttle can visit the Christa
McAuliffe Planetarium in Concord. The planetarium has a flight simulator
that mimics flying the space shuttle Discovery.
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