International Space Station Facts

International Space Station Facts

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Look, up in the sky. It’s not a bird. It’s not exactly a plane. It’s the International Space Station! The International Space Station (ISS) constantly orbits the Earth at an altitude around 250 miles above the ground, with a relative ground speed of over 17,000mph. It’s a research vehicle shared by NASA and space agencies of other countries.

Orbiting the Earth more than a dozen times a day, the International Space Station frequently passes over the same locations but the only time you can see it with the naked eye is within a couple hours after sunset, or within a couple hours before sunrise. We see it when it reflects sunlight, the way the moon does. When it flies by in the middle of the night it is completely in the shadow of the Earth so you won't see it. In the middle of the day it is just too small to pick out in the sky. While the video for this story may make it appear as though the ISS is has flashing lights, that's just an artifact of video compression. The ISS has no flashing lights as you would see on an airplane.

Many of the “flyovers” of the ISS for any given point are brief or so low on the horizon that it’s not easy to see them. We can't see it either when the sky is cloudy. The easiest flyovers for viewing are when the ISS is high in the sky and visible for more than 5 minutes. These really long views come around about once a month.

5 facts about the International Space Station

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NASA’s ISS mission page

When you hear of a flyover for any given city, if you live within a few dozen miles of that city you'll definitely be able to see it, as long as the weather permits. Even for cities that are hundreds of miles away, the odds of being able to see a flyover are good, although the start time and duration and elevation will be slightly different.
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