How to See the Space Station From the Ground
Depending on your location on the Earth's surface, the spacecraft's position in orbit and the time of day, you may be able to see either the International Space Station (ISS) as it orbits about 240 statute miles above the planet. A spacecraft will be seen as a steady -- not blinking -- white pinpoint of light moving slowly across the sky.
Flight Dynamics Officers in NASA's Mission Control Center use sophisticated computer software to predict when and where the space station will be visible to people on the ground.
The NASA Human Spaceflight web page provides sighting opportunities by either a graphical display or a text listing by city. Both can be accessed from: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/sightings/
Interpreting the Data
The text listing is in a column format, a sample of which is shown below:
||Tue Nov 14/06:22 AM
||10 above WSW
||31 above NE
The left column is the satellite. The next column is the local date and the local time. The third column gives the duration, or the length of time in minutes the spacecraft is expected to be visible, assuming a clear sky. The fourth column gives the maximum elevation the vehicle will achieve above the horizon (90 degrees is directly overhead). The fifth column tells the direction and elevation at which the spacecraft will become visible initially. The sixth column gives the direction and elevation at which the spacecraft will disappear from view.
This sighting opportunity is illustrated in the figure below:
Image above: Satellite sighting graphic shows how to locate a satellite during a viewing opportunity. Credit: Richard Czentorycki (RSIS)/NASA
More information is available on:
+ Glenn's Contributions to the Shuttle
+ Glenn's Contributions to Mir
- For best results, observers should look in the direction and at the elevation shown in the appearing column at the time listed. Because of the speed of an orbiting vehicle, telescopes are not practical. However, a good pair of field binoculars may reveal some detail of the structural shape of the spacecraft.