Watching The Space Shuttle Liftoff [UPDATE: Um, not so much]

Ken AshfordScience & TechnologyLeave a Comment

You want to watch the Space Shuttle go up?  Not on TV?

Tonight Thursday night may be your night, if you live in the East Coast.

People in the eastern United States will get a great opportunity, weather permitting, to see the Space Shuttle Discovery launched into orbit Wednesday evening.

The shuttle flight (STS-119) will be the 28th to rendezvous and dock with the International Space Station (ISS), and the glow of its engines will be visible along much of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. A map shows the area of visibility.

Here's the area of visibility:


NASA info: Weather permitting, a night launch of the space shuttle is typically visible from much of the East Coast. The most dramatic view is from inside the yellow circle. But within the red circle, skywatchers may see very bright, pulsating, fast-moving object that resembles the brightest stars in the sky from 3 to 8 minutes after launch. For viewers near the edges of the circles, however, the shuttle will hug the horizon, so an unobstructed view is needed.

So, for us in the Triad, we would look into the southeast skies about 3-7 minutes after liftoff.  It may be possible to see the shuttle with the SRBs, but that will be very low on the horizon.  More likely, observation of the shuttle will be just with the main engine.  If eight or more minutes pass, you can pack it in.

You'll want to look low on the horizon, so make sure there are no trees or buildings in the way:

Depending upon your distance from the coastline, the shuttle will be relatively low on the horizon (5 to 15 degrees; your fist on an outstretched arm covers about 10 degrees of sky).  If you're positioned near the edge of a viewing circle, the shuttle will barely come above the horizon and could be obscured by low clouds or haze.

The key, of course, is to make sure the shuttle has taken off.  So watch it on TV (liftoff is was scheduled for 9:20:10 p.m. ET) and make sure it goes on time (it doesn't always).  Then go outside at your pre-planned sighting spot.  (If you're not sure which direction is "southeast", use Google Maps to type your address).

The forecast for the Triad tonight (at 9:30 p.m.) is "mostly cloudy", but you may have some luck.

Happy shuttle spotting!

BREAKING NEWS — Uh, hold off on that for a day:

NASA has postponed the launch of space shuttle Discovery because of a gas leak. The leak of gaseous hydrogen occurred as the launch team was filling the external fuel tank for liftoff Wednesday night. The seven astronauts had yet to board the spaceship.

Discovery's flight to the international space station is already a month late because of concern about hydrogen gas valves in the engine compartment.

NASA officials say the leak occurred in plumbing outside of the shuttle and had nothing to do with those valves.

Shuttle officials are now shooting for a launch on Thursday night.

We're supposed to get rain tomorrow night…..