Where is the International Space Station?

5 March 2013

Circling Earth only 400 km above us, the International Space Station is closer than you might think. In May this year it will take ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano and his crewmates Karen Nyberg and Fyodor Yurchikhin less than six hours to reach the Station in their Soyuz spacecraft. Their return flight to Earth six months later will be even shorter, landing in Kazachstan around three hours after departure.

This photo was taken almost two years ago from Space Shuttle Discovery as it left the Station for Earth on her last voyage before retirement. ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle Johannes Kepler is docked with the Station at the bottom of the photo, while the golden module at the top is Japan’s own supply ferry.  

The Station circles Earth at 28 800 km/h, taking only 90 minutes to complete a full circuit. It can be seen and photographed without special equipment as it passes overhead. As it moves so fast, the hard part is to know when and where to look. ESA’s tracker shows you where the Station is at any time.

Once you know where the Space Station will be, it is best to wait for dawn or dusk. The Space Station looks like a very bright star or aircraft gliding through the sky. Use a tripod and set the shutter speed to a long exposure of up to a minute. The Station will always arrive from the west and will show up as a white streak in the photograph.

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