As America celebrates its 233rd birthday this holiday weekend, there will be an extra light in the sky along with the fireworks. Across the country, Americans will be treated to spectacular views of the International Space Station as it orbits 220 miles (350 kilometers) above Earth.
Many locations will have unusually long sighting opportunities of as much as 5 minutes, weather permitting, as the station flies almost directly overhead.
To find out when to see the station in your city, visit: http://spaceflight1.nasa.gov/realdata/sightings/
The largest spacecraft ever built, the station also is the most reflective. It will be brighter than most stars at dawn and dusk, appearing as a solid, glowing light, slowly traversing the predawn or evening sky. It is visible when lit by the Sun while the ground below is not in full daylight. It moves across the sky too fast for conventional telescopes, but a good set of binoculars can enhance the viewing experience and reveal some detail of the station’s structure.
The station circles Earth every 90 minutes. It is 357 feet (109 meters) long, about the length of a football field including the end zones, and 45 feet (14 meters) tall. Its reflective solar arrays are 240 feet (73 meters) wide, a wingspan greater than that of a jumbo jet, and have a total surface area of more than 38,000 square feet (3,500 square meters).
An international crew of six astronauts, including American flight engineer Michael Barratt, is aboard the complex conducting research and continuing its assembly. Other crew members are from Russia, Europe, Canada, and Japan.