Posted by: Cody Coyote | April 12, 2010

WORLD SPACE DAY 2010

image: space station pass-April 12Photo: Dewey Vanderhoff/Planet Cody ©

The Space Age is by most reckoning is barely 52 years old. The first shot heard round the world was of course Sputnik , launched in October of 1957. To my mind, the real age of space exploration began on this date, April 12, in the year 1961 when Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin took Vostok 1 for a hop around the planet , and lived to tell about it. The day that Man left the cradle. On the same date twenty years later, the first true  spaceship left for orbit, the space shuttle Columbia on its maiden voyage, April 12 of 1981. Those two milestone events are why I call April 12 World Space Day.

This morning provided a stellar opportunity ( pun intended) to recall those manned spaceflight touchstones. At 5:17 AM a bright object suddenly appeared alongside the bright star Arcturus in the dark predawn skies westerly above Cody , Wyoming.  It was the International Space Station joined at the hip with space shuttle Discovery ( Columbia’s second sibling) leaving the Earth’s shadow for orbital sunrise. The incandescent golden object was brighter than anything in the sky– indeed all but the Sun, Moon , and planet Venus at magnitude-3.3  proximate due to having acres of gold metallic mirror-like solar panels. More importantly , the fast moving light was carrying 13 humans from several nations , including four women astronauts , within its 400 tons of hardware and not less than three fully functional manned spacecraft moored to the docks 215 miles above Earth. The photo above is testament.

With any luck , next Monday morning  the space shuttle Discovery will pass within visible range of Wyoming on its way home to Florida. Just after sunrise Cody time on Monday  April 19, the astute and well placed observer may actually  see Discovery zooming thru the atmosphere in an incandescent cocoon of plasma with a long contrail. This has only occured once before in the 132 missions of the Space Shuttle, a re-entry visible across the American heartland at dawn.  Most returning shuttles approach Florida from the southwest over the South Pacific then the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, to avoid the possibility of scattering debris over populated areas should another shuttle break up on reentry , as did Columbia.  I saw a shuttle returning home from the Russian MIR space station in the mid-1990’s over Wyoming. It was in a bright pinkish-orange fireball trailing a light blue contrail , followed a few minutes later by a muffled sonic boom. At the time I was out in Oregon Basin east of town  , and that shuttle was reentering back west of me, probably more directly over Cody , passing thru broken clouds. It was an astounding sight— Not to be missed! Besides which  there will likely be no more opportunities to observe this NW—>SE  reentry across Mid-America in the few remaining shuttle fights, after the current Discovery mission.

Weather permitting, I would suggest being out east of Cody about 14 miles at Eagle Pass , where the American flag flies on the promontory 1/4 mile south of the highway where it cuts thru the low ridge.  The view to the east is boundless and uncluttered from north to south , across the Badlands.   It would be peachy to have a few interested folks  there to provide a nice ” Americana” foreground for photos of this space spectacle  ( just don’t park right at the flagpole, please ! ).  Let’s have a breakfast gathering to honor our international space programs and the return of the most experieinced well traveled space shuttle in the fleet. The traditional Earth Day is the following day, April 20, this year being its 40th anniversary.

NASA won’t publish the final reentry timeline and ground track maps of Discovery’s coming  transcontinental US reentry  until two days before landing. Maybe this Friday afternoon we’ll know the details if the bureaucrats are well motivated ( yeah, right) , but more likely it will be sometime Saturday  before we have an accurate idea of Discovery’s visbility to viewers.   You can follow the mission developments  and learn  the landing details quickly by  browsing to http://www.Spaceflightnow.com  and navigating to Mission Status Center for real time updates and NASA video . ( The SF Now homepage also has a link for the Landing info  in its lefthand sidebar.)

For my part, I’ll defer my personal celebration of Space Day 2010 for another week till I ( hopefully ) see Discovery skillfully torching thru the morning sky above Wyoming. That will give time to more fully reflect  on Yuri Gagarin  , Columbia‘s first and last flights , the death of cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov of Soyuz 1 in 1967, the three cosmonauts of Soyuz 11 who died  on reentry in 1971, and of course the Challenger shuttle crew in 1986. More importantly will be the revelations of how far we have come in manned space fight since leaving the cradle just 49 years ago . We even made it to the next world out there, our own Moon , six times. More importantly all the crew made it back. Amazing  what we can accomplish when we put our minds to it :  Man on the Moon only 66 years after the Wright Brothers flew a wood and canvas contraption a whopping 112 feet at Kitty Hawk , rising no higher than a man’s top hat.  Where will we be 66 years from now?

– More later in the week !

Dewey

(p.s.  This is my first Blog post ever. I  gots  lots to learn…)

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