Category Archives: Space

ISS Pass – October 05th

When last we saw our plucky hero, he had seen the ISS pass that faded into an orbital sunset right above his head and was urging everyone in SoCal and adjoining regions to watch this ISS pass tonight:

Image from

Click on the image to see it gloriously full-sized.

One of my best to date I believe. The sky was a little bit brighter than last night (being closer to sunset) so I switched to 4-second exposures instead of 5-seconds. I had my setup location correct in respect to the point where the ISS rose up from the horizon, so it came up in that gap between the trees and thus saw it about a minute earlier. In addition, I had a good (i.e., lucky) guess on where the top of the frame was, so the final frame was perfect and I didn’t shoot any additional frames beyond that and waste time going to my second setup position.

It only took 28 seconds to fold the tripod, run down the little hill in the front yard in the dark without tripping and splooting and dying, cross the street, set the tripod back up, and start shooting toward the west. Not bad, decent planning.

The big question I had here was whether or not I would get the final shot showing the ISS fading into orbital sunset.

I did! This crop of that last image just before the ISS went behind the trees (already fading due to the view through the smog and haze and bright lights of downtown Los Angeles and the beautiful San Fernando Valley) clearly shows it turning orange and fading in brightness over that four seconds.

Then it was a sprint back to the front yard to go looking for the Dragon spacecraft with Crew-5, astronauts from the US, Japan, and Russia, which launched this morning. Unfortunately, I was thinking their flight profile would be similar to a Soyuz launch, where the Soyuz reaches orbit pretty close to the ISS and catches up over just a couple of hours. That was a bad assumption.


This is the SpaceX “Follow Dragon” site and, assuming it’s fairly accurate, when I had just seen the ISS come over and was expecting Dragon to be right behind, Dragon was actually over southern China, on a path toward northern Japan and Alaska.

But wait…

They have to be in the same orbital plane, which means that Dragon will be over SoCal in about 25 to 30 minutes. Right?

So I went out at the appointed time…

…as Dragon was supposed to be coming up on the San Francisco area and headed right toward SoCal.

I kept shooting pictures until…

…ISS was supposed to be well to our south, off of Baja.

Did I ever see the Dragon? Nope, no sign of it. On the other hand, there was a very bright moon, a little haze for all of that moonlight to reflect off of, and the Dragon is much smaller than the ISS and doesn’t have any of the HUGE solar panels that the ISS has and thus is much dimmer.

Maybe the photos showed what the eye couldn’t see? Nope. No joy.

So enjoy the photos of the ISS pass, and go to to put in your location and see when the ISS (or other satellites) will pass through your skies.

Finally, if you’re curious, on the first big picture above, look for the Big Dipper at the bottom, just above the trees, then follow the “pointer” stars at the end of the “bowl” to see that one star that’s a dot, not a streak. That’s Polaris, the North Star, and it’s a dot and all of the other stars are streaks because the Earth is spinning. Polaris never moves because it’s directly above the pole, but all of the other stars will show longer and longer streaks the further out they are from Polaris, because they move in the sky more as the Earth spins.

In the second big picture above, the really bright “star” at the bottom left between the trees is Jupiter, and that huge glare on the right side is the Moon.


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ISS Pass – October 04th

It’s time for ISS passes again in the evening over SoCal.

Image from

A partial pass, with the station fading into orbital sunset right overhead. Okay, let’s fight the traffic incoming to Burbank and take a look!

Oh, yeah! Click on that image to see it full sized! I love that big, heavy, wide angle, light bucket of a lens with the razor sharp focus!

So, I slightly misjudged where the bottom of the frame was, so we picked up some glare from our kitchen lights and the laundry room skylights. To get a rooftop-to-zenith angle for the camera it’s at a really awkward angle on the tripod. Good to know for next time.

The ISS was coming from the northwest, rising behind those Italian cypress trees and headed toward where the moon was up behind me and to the left.

Also visible are two airliners going into Burbank’s Runway 8. The lower bright diagonal line is Southwest flight #1555 coming in from Oakland, while the curving line on the right margin (with the red & green navigation lights showing as well) is JetBlue flight #359 coming in from JFK in New York City. (Images from FlightRadar 24.)


Did we catch the ISS fading into orbital sunset? Well…kinda? It’s really, really close, and if you look close at the final frame of the sequence you CAN see the trail fading as it moves from the bottom right to upper left.

If the camera had been positioned a smidge higher and the frame included less of the roof and more of the sky just above… Coulda, woulda, shoulda!

On the other hand, there is a hidden treat in this frame. Can you find it? The “coat hanger asterism” is in there if you click on that image and look at it full sized. It’s not bright, but it is clear if you know what to look for.

So, I told you all of that to tell you about this…

If you’re in SoCal tomorrow night and the sky’s clear, go out and look for an EVEN BETTER ISS PASS.

A little earlier, rising at 19:16 in the northwest, but with autumn here it should be plenty dark and the ISS will be REALLY bright. Again the ISS’s path will be almost straight overhead, and while it will fade to darkness in orbital sunset before it gets to the far horizon, it still covers most of the sky.

EVEN BETTER, SpaceX is supposed to launch the NASA Crew-5 mission tomorrow afternoon. They don’t dock at the ISS until the day after launch, so if they get off planet on time tomorrow you may be able to see the Crew Dragon following the ISS, trailing along on the same orbital track.

Take a chance to see it if you get a chance! Let me know if you see it, and wave to the crews, and let me know if you saw it!

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Vandenberg Video

This was a shot in the dark. There were so many unknowns. Where would the rocket be rising over the mountains? How loud would it be? How fast would it move? How big would it be? Which direction would it be going?

I had some good guesses for some of those. If you look at the video, my eyeballing of the map and directions said “over that white barn with the brown roof out there.” It actually came up directly over that telephone pole to the left of the white barn.

I had my iPhone set as wide as possible in order to increase the odds of catching the rocket – but that also means that when it did, the rocket was just a dot. If I had been actively controlling the video recording, I could have done much better, zoomed in, etc. Next time.

It was windy out there. You’ll hear a LOT of wind noise, and I don’t know if anyone makes a wind sock to slip over the bottom (i.e., the microphone end) of an iPhone 13. Probably should Google that, they probably do. Or I should probably make one, patent it, and get rich.

Lessons learned.

If you can zoom in to see portions of the video, do so. You can actually see the rocket pretty well since this is a high-definition video. I’ve also got some reasonably fancy video software that I’ve never used that says it can do that and give me a video output of that – we’ll see how my learning curve goes. But not tonight.

Through the wind noise, in the background you can hear the launch comms (the guys in the foreground had a radio) and you’ll hear “Engine start,” then “Liftoff,” then at 0:24 you’ll hear people say “There it is!”

At about 0:37 you can start to see the rocket as a glint, heading straight up from that telephone pole toward the sun, and at about 0:47 you start to hear the roar of the engines.

At about 1:18 you see a vapor condensation trail start to appear just to the right of the sun and you can really start to hear the “ripping” sound from the engines.

At 1:48 the vapor trail stops but you can still see the dot of light from the engines as the rocket starts to pitch over to the left, headed south over the Pacific Ocean.

I gave the camera a nudge to the left to keep tracking it at about 2:00, and you can follow that dot all the way to the left edge of the frame, about the time you hear a helicopter go by at 2:39.

The vapor trail starts to drift, down at the bottom you see a cloud of exhaust start to rise from the pad, over the hill, and there’s a ton of wind noise as the video wraps up.

A lot of room for improvement, but it doesn’t suck for a shot in the dark.

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The Final Delta IV Heavy From Vandenberg

There are stories to be told, maybe, but if so, later. Today was a full day, and a day full of ADVENTURE! The good kind.

Tonight, just the pictures. I’ve had enough time to see what I have and what I missed and clean it all up a bit.

In short, I made it up to Lompoc, about 135 miles north of where I in western Los Angeles County.

The second I opened the window to take this picture, a large, weird bug flew into my ear.

To orient us, the launch site was at Space Launch Complex #6 (Slick-6) as marked on the left side, right near the coast. I was where the blue dot was in the middle right, just barely outside Lompoc city limits. The “heart” pins indicate places where I had flagged from online articles as good places for Vandenberg launch viewing. I was headed for one of the two on Ocean Avenue to the west of where I stopped, but the police had the road closed before I got to either.

I was guessing that we were about eight miles from the launch site. Whatever! This was a new experience, a chance to learn how to do this more in the future. I got settled.

Next to us was a guy working on his field. I have no idea if he loves rockets or hates the crowds. In the background you can see some of the fairly large crowd parked aside the road between his fields.

There was what I perceived to be a large crowd, even if it wasn’t gargantuan. (Try getting out of the Rose Bowl after an N’Sync concert!) Folks were lining all of the roads all the way back into town and beyond, plus any open side road.

There were turkey vultures flying overhead.

There were turkeys taking selfies. Off on the horizon on the left, my best guess by eyeballing the map said that the rocket would come up over one of those two peaks behind that barn.

I was right. (For all of these rocket photos, I haven’t cropped them. They’re all shot with a 300mm telephoto lens – click on the photos to blow them up to full sized, there’s actually some decent detail in the rockets and plumes!)

The rocket cleared the hills about 18 seconds after liftoff. We had plenty of folks with radios who were listening to ULA Launch Control, so we knew when it lifted off.

Remember my guess of eight miles to the pad? That was pretty close, it was just over 40 seconds before we started hearing the engines.

From our vantage point, the rocket seemed to go right next to the sun, which was a rude surpose to those of us (i.e., me) who were looking at it through a telephoto lens.

For a brief time around then there was a really nice condensation trail, which made it much easier to follow.

Here’s a wider angle view from a video screen capture. I’ll have to play with the video to see if there’s anything else that’s salvagable.

Back at SLC-6.

And then there was traffic. And other adventures to tell about later. And maybe video.

Was it worth the three hour drive each way?



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Nature’s Popcorn Dritter Teil

Yesterday, after I saw the tiny dude from the previous post, I went walking around the back yard and spotted another tiny dude.

This guy was not nearly as calm as the first one, skittering and running like hell when I was still twenty feet or more away.

He got off of the grass and onto the dirt very quickly, letting his natural camaflouge work for him.

If I hadn’t seen him skitter over there, I’m not sure I would have noticed him as I walked by if he didn’t move.

He only waited a few seconds before moving to make his escape over the edge and down the hill, even though I had frozen.

Not sure why he thought I was such a threat. I think it has something to do with the “popcorn” title and the idea that everything and everyone is trying to eat you.

And there he goes, just the tip of his tail left! Total time of the encounter, from first picture to last? Twenty-eight seconds.

Tomorrow, with luck, an adventure!

As many times as I’ve talked about going up the coast about 150 miles to Vandenberg to see a launch, it’s never quite worked out. But tomorrow, the final Delta IV Heavy launches from the west coast (there are two more scheduled from Florida before the rocket is discontinued and replaced with the Vulcan rocket) and my schedule is otherwise clear. No super critical work deadlines, no more Wing activities for the CAF, no travel, no Chiefs game – “no obligations.”

So, footloose & fancy free, I plan to wander up the coast to Lompoc, see if I can find a wide spot off of the road near the base entrance or on the beach if it’s open and not foggy, and watch a really freakin’ big rocket take off.

I’ll let you know how it goes…


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Another Night Launch Out Of Vandenberg

Perhaps not quite as spectacular as a launch just after sunset, when the sky is almost dark but the Sun’s still just over the horizon, illuminating the cloud of gas at stage separation to make a giant “space squid” in the sky. Perhaps. But far easier to see than a day launch, where with binoculars you might see a bright dot for five seconds, if you’re lucky.

About 45-50 seconds after launch something like 100 miles northwest of here, the rocket climbs high enough to be seen above the mountains to our west. The rocket’s tail is orange and grows longer as the rocket climbs and the atmosphere gets thinner. It also turns more blue and white, finally blinking out as the first stage shuts down and separates from the second stage.

Visually I could see the rocket’s second stage firing and pushing the payload on to orbit for another two minutes or so. With binoculars in the past I’ve seen it for another two or three minutes, all the way until it disappears over the horizon to the south. Tonight, with just my Mark I eyeballs, I wasn’t quite that lucky.

Quite the show! I can’t wait to see a launch much more up close and personal.

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Destination In Sight

You probably heard – Artemis didn’t get off the ground this morning. Part of it was technical and mechanical, some sticky valves and temperatures out of range, communications issues. Part of it was weather, lighting in the area that delayed fueling and then storms building up as they were trying to decide to press ahead and try to solve the engine issues. In the end it was a good decision to stand down, solve the technical and mechanical problems, wait for a better day to fly.

This evening, just before sunset, the destination was making a most beautiful appearance in the evening sky.

Along with one of the obligatory jets on final approach to LAX after a 15 hour flight from Asia.

When it got a little bit darker and the contrast was a little better and the Moon wasn’t down in the coastal fog and atmospheric soup, a bit of detail could be seen.

Click on it to blow it up – that big round spot on the illuminated limb is Mare Crisium.

If I wasn’t in deadlines up to my eyeballs and trying to get out of town to Worldcon in less than 48 hours, it would have been tempting to haul the ‘scope out of the back yard.

But I am and I am, so I didn’t.

We’ll get an idea tomorrow afternoon of when NASA might try to launch again when they have an update on Artemis’ status. If they can repair it on the pad fast, there’s another launch window on Friday. If they can repair it on the pad but need the weekend, there’s a third launch window next Monday. If they can’t repair it on the pad or it’s going to take more than a week, they’ll have to roll the vehicle back to the Vehicle Assembly Building, which means a launch attemp no earlier than October.

When we’re ready, the Moon will still be there. I have faith.

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To The Moon Again – Maybe

You’ve probably heard of NASA’s Artemis mission. They’ve been designing and building the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft for about a dozen years. It’s NASA’s program to bring crews back to the Moon’s surface and eventually build a permanent base on the Moon.

The plan is for the Artemis I mission to launch as an uncrewed test flight, possibly as early as 08:30 AM (or so) EST tomorrow morning. As we speak they’ve had a delay in starting the fueling due to thunderstorms in the area, so that time may bet bumped a bit, but they have a two-hour long window, so there’s some slack available. If they aren’t able to launch tomorrow morning (this is a first launch, a gazillion things could hold them up) they have more launch opportunities later in the week and next week.

This will be about a 40 to 42 day mission, depending a little on when they launch. It’s that whole “we’re moving, the Moon’s moving, orbital mechanics” thing.

If all goes well (eventually) with Artemis I, then Artemis II in 2023 or 2024 will carry a crew. They won’t land on the Moon, but they’ll go past it, around it, and then back to check out the whole system. If that goes well, then Artemis III is scheduled for 2025 to land a crew near the South Pole of the Moon. That crew wouldn’t be there for a day like Apollo 11 or even three days like Apollo 17. It would stay for a couple of weeks at least and start working on the foundation for a future lunar base.

There’s no “maybe” to me if we’re talking about going back, just “maybe” in terms of whether Artemis I will be launching tomorrow or not. Even if NASA wasn’t building Artemis, SpaceX has clear plans to get crewed and cargo missions there using Starship, and that should be flying in six to twelve months, with crewed flights not too long afterwards. Not to mention the Chinese, who have a clearly stated goal of putting their crews on the Moon.

When I was four, my dad got up up at O’Dark Thirty to watch Scott Carpenter and John Glenn go into space. In 1973, while only 17, I went to Florida to watch Skylab launch. I’ve been dragging my butt out of bed way too early to watch Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Shuttle, ISS, and SpaceX. I’m sure I’ll be up too early tomorrow morning as well.

You can watch live also, on NASA-TV.

If the weather has turned bad or something else has gone south and they’ve scrubbed, I’ll go back to bed and we’ll try again in a few days. If not, I’ll be hoping to see our spacecraft go back to the Moon.

Let’s hope it’s a good day to go to space! If not, let’s hope they remember that it’s better to be safe down here, wishing you were up there, than to be in trouble up there, wishing you were down here.

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Jupiter Rising

While the morning skies have been filled with bright planets and even included an amazing lineup of five planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, not necessarily in that order) a few weeks ago, the evening sky has been empty. DUH! All of the planets are off on the other side of the sun in the morning sky!

And you didn’t see any pictures here because I am *NOT* a morning person under the best of circumstances in my dotage.

But now Saturn and Jupiter are moving back into the late evening sky, rising about 21:00 or 22:00 local time and getting up above the trees by 23:00.

That’s Jupiter, very bright, just to the left of that big tree in the lower center. Saturn is up behind those clouds somewhere, not quite as bright, a little bit yellowish colored. Binoculars will let you pick out the Galilean moons of Jupiter, and it doesn’t take much of a telescope to show them both as disks, Saturn with its rings.

If you’re out walking the dog, or the dog’s walking you, just before bed, take a peek.

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Random Old Photos – August 21st

So, okay, nothing random about it. Five years ago today we were dodging clouds and finally ending up in southeaster Nebraska, in the parking lot of a Sinclair gas station at the intersection of US Highway 136 and Nebraska Route 4, between Filley and Beatrice.

Going back through the photos from that day, I don’t think I’ve shared this one because it’s blurry and out of focus, poorly exposed. But it shows a phenomenon called “Bailey’s Beads” where in the last fraction of a second before totality the Sun’s extremely bright surface can be seen through mountain passes on the edge of the Moon’s edge.

I’m sharing it to day as a reminder to me and a lesson to anyone else who’s interested, that events like total solar eclipses are chaotic, fluid, and fast. You can plan and practice and prepare and check your equipment until you’re numb. The more of that you do the more that you’ll increase your odds of success. But that doesn’t mean you’ll succeed. There’s a luck factor in addition to not knowing what you don’t know. If you don’t know something, it’s hard to prepare for it.

On April 8, 2024 there will be another total solar eclipse crossing the US. The longest totality and the widest path will be in Texas, but as the path of totality sweeps up through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine it will include cities like Dallas, Little Rock, Evansville, Indianapolis, Dayton, Akron, Cleveland, Buffalo, Rochester, and Burlington.

Somewhere along that path, hopefully in a spot with crystal clear skies, on the center line, as far south as possible to get as much totality as possible, I’ll be there with lessons learned and a second chance. And I’ll have practiced and prepared and planned and with a bit of luck I’ll get a fantastic, focused, and fabulous picture of Bailey’s Beads. And the corona. And the partial stages. And shadow bands.

And I’ll also remember to take a minute in the midst of it all to simply look and be awestruck.


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