January 31, 2008
NASA is celebrating the 50th anniversary of America’s presence in space with a commemoration of the launch of Explorer 1. Coming just four months after the U.S.S.R. orbited Sputnik, Explorer 1 was the first satellite to carry scientific research equipment into space. The Van Allen cosmic ray detector was the principal instrument aboard Explorer 1. NASA is commemorating America’s First Spacecraft with a special webpage. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory designed and built Explorer 1’s payload and amateur radio operators who were associated with JPL at the time were directly involved in efforts to monitor Sputnik’s radio signals. This week the JPL amateur radio club station, W6VIO, will conduct a special on air event to commemorate Explorer.
Late January and early February mark important milestones in spaceflight history. The Apollo 1 fire occured on January 27, 1967; the Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986 and Shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entry on February 1, 2003. Here at StarGeezerAstronomy.com we think it is important to pause and reflect on the sacrifices and scientific contributions of the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia crews. We also believe that we should celebrate their contributions and the tremendous legacy of missions like Explorer, Voyager, the Mars Exploration Rovers, Casini-Huygens, Mercury MESSENGER and the tremendous ongoing accomplishments aboard the International Space Station. The Expedition 16 crew aboard ISS completed a 7 hour extra vehicular activity, or spacewalk on January 30, 2008. New European and Japanese laboratory modules are poised and ready for transport to ISS in the coming weeks and months.
What better way to celebrate Explorer’s 50th anniversary, NASA’s legacy in space and the men and women who make such accomplishments look easy than observing an orbital pass of the ISS? As it happens ISS will be visible during evening passes over much of North America and the world in the coming days. I’ve selected the “best” passes for the week at selected cities in the U.S. and around the world. To find upcoming visible passes of the International Space Station for your city click here.