Astro Bob blog: Seven windows on the worldThe Endeavour shuttle that launched today will carry a picture window to the space station this week. In the planet updater, learn about the sweetheart pairing of Venus and Jupiter with the moon.
By: Bob King, Duluth News Tribune
Seven windows on the world
Space shuttle Endeavour roars off the launch pad
earlier this morning on its mission to deliver the Tranquility
node and cupola to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann
The shuttle Endeavour is now silently orbiting the Earth at over 17,000 mph as the astronauts prepare to power up the shuttle's robotic arm. Tomorrow they'll use the arm and camera to inspect the heat shield tiles for any damage and then rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday.
This amazing photo of the shuttle takeoff was taken by Jim Schaff of Vero Beach, Florida. Jim lives 60 miles south of the launch site and set up a camera outside his house around 4:15 a.m. "The whole sky to the north began to glow as they lit it off," said Schaff. "It took 10 to 20 seconds before I could see the plume." Details: 16mm lens at f/5.6, ISO 400 and 155-second exposure.
During the two week mission, astronauts will deliver and install the Tranquillity node and its cupola, a dome-shaped extension with seven windows for keeping an eye on robotic operations outside the station. The node will house the station's environmental control equipment which removes carbon dioxide from the air and converts urine to drinkable water. There's even room for the treadmill which has been taking up needed space elsewhere on the station. The node will be a welcome addition to the astronauts' cramped "house".
The seven-windowed cupola extends from the Tranquility node in this artist's illustration. Credit: NASA
The most interesting new piece of equipment is the cupola which provides an all-around vista of the space station and the Earth below. Up until now, the astronauts have been stuck looking through windows like the ones in airplanes that are flush with the walls of the craft.
“Just the idea of providing this great view of the station and the world beneath us is going to be pretty great,” said mission commander George Zamka. “That’s not what it’s for, but it will be spectacular.” Currently video cameras are used to piece together a view of what's going on when astronauts use the robotic arm to do things like attach new modules to the station. Once the cupola's installed, they'll see it all right through the window.
A artist's view of looking through the cupola -- sweet! Credit: NASA
If I were up there, I'd spend my free time in the Tranquility node sightseeing and daydreaming in the cupola. What better way to feel the spaciousness of space than peering out one pane after another while floating in microgravity.
You can see both the space station (ISS) and Endeavour shuttle chasing each other across the sky the next couple mornings. After Wednesday, they'll be linked up together and appear as one single satellite. The times below are Central standard and good for northern Minn. - NW Wisc. For times for your city, click HERE and type in your zipcode. The pair will be making passes across the northern sky from west to east during morning twilight.
* Tuesday morning Feb. 9 -- A bright pass of the ISS at 6:26 a.m. followed by Endeavour at 6:53 a.m.
* Weds. Feb. 10 -- Bright pass of Endeavour starting at 6:19 a.m. followed by the ISS at 6:48 a.m.
* Thurs. Feb. 11 -- ISS/Endeavour at 5:38 a.m. first visible almost due north and traveling east. Brilliant pass!
* Fri. Feb. 12 -- ISS/Endeavour at 6:00 a.m.
* Sat. Feb. 13 -- ISS/Endeavour at 6:22 a.m.
Planet highlights this week include Venus' return to the evening sky though it will take perserverence to find it in the twilight glow. Jupiter and Venus are closing in on each other all week long in preparation for their gathering with the thin crescent moon on Valentine's Day. Illustration: Bob King