Can we see the Space Shuttle Re-entry?

August 5, 2005 at 11:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In the past, the Space Shuttle has sometimes passed over Texas as it streaked toward an early morning landing in Florida. And that is always an amazing sight, as the ionized gases produced by the glow of re-entry paint a silver streak across the entire sky. It is definitely a sight not to be missed. But right now, it looks like the landing track of the Discovery into Florida early Monday morning will be coming in from Central America, rather than from over Texas. So it looks like we won’t be able to see the re-entry this time. But if the de-orbit burn is changed to a later time, the landing track could still change. You can keep up with the latest expected ground track at:
http://www.nasa.gov/returntoflight/crew/landing.html

There is still a chance to see the Shuttle from Texas this weekend, but it won’t be during re-entry. Two bright lights in tandem will slowly drift over the metroplex sky this Sunday morning about 30 minutes before sunrise. The Space Shuttle and International Space Station will shine nearly as bright as the brilliant planet Jupiter. About three hours earlier, the Shuttle will have undocked from the Station getting ready for its Monday morning return to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. So the two spacecraft will be slightly separated.

Look to the southwest at 6:13am in the pre-dawn sky as the orbiting vehicles rise over the horizon about one degree apart. If you hold out your thumb out at arm’s length, you’ll be able to cover both spaceships since the width of your thumb is about two degrees across. At 6:16am, the pair will be nearly overhead and by 6:19am they will be setting in the northeast. Sunrise is at 6:45am, so there will be some competing sunlight sneaking into the sky.

Which is which? The Shuttle will be the slightly brighter one due to its higher reflective surface. Binoculars will definitely make for better viewing.

This is not nearly as impressive as watching the re-entry over Texas. But it is still worth a look early Sunday morning.

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