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Watching the brilliant white dot that is the International Space Station (ISS) transit the sky in a few minutes is a great experience, especially if you are following what's going on up there.

It can only be seen properly around sunrise and sunset, so that you can catch the sunlight reflecting off its huge solar arrays against a dark enough sky. Wherever you live, you can find your next opportunity to see it by clicking the image above (or even better, get the ISS Detector Pro App).

Watching the ISS transit became much more interesting to people in the UK when Tim Peake became the first British ESA astronaut to go on board the ISS.

Before, during and after his 6-month mission his activities have been followed with great interest by children and adults alike. Watching that brilliant white dot traversing from horizon to horizon, a little over 250 miles up and moving at 17,100 miles per hour, became extra special when we knew one of the people up there.

Tim's trip up to the ISS in the Soyuz was shown live on UK TV, with expert (and highly appreciated) commentary by the retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. Tim's arrival at the ISS involved manual docking and prolonged safety checks, and taught us that manoeuvering in orbit is much more counter-intuitive than some space epics would suggest!

If you like this...

[A video tour of the International Space Station]
[The International Space Station and the docked Space Shuttle]
[Enjoying the view of Earth from the ISS Cupola]

In her final days as Commander of the International Space Station, Sunita (Suni) Williams of NASA recorded an extensive tour of the orbital laboratory and downlinked the video on Nov. 18, just hours before she, cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Flight Engineer Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency departed in their Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft for a landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan. The tour includes scenes of each of the station's modules and research facilities with a running narrative by Williams of the work that has taken place and which is ongoing aboard the orbital outpost.

Suni, who is of Indian and Slovenian extraction, is a Captain in the US Navy, where she was a helicopter test pilot, and (I discovered) has a very impressive career in both the USN and NASA.

Click on any screenshot to play the video... 25 minutes of privileged viewing not to be missed!

Columbus, the European Laboratory, one of many on the Space Station (this one on the right hand side) where a lot of medical experiments are done

A sleep station module, containing 4 of these sleep stations...

"It's sort of like a little phone booth. It's also like a little office, with a computer and some toys and books and other things that make it sort of like home"

No gravity, so each of the 4 sleep stations...

...are in a separate wall

One of the space suits in storage, a miniature space vehicle...

"...your head turns inside the fixed helmet, you need a wide angle of vision and usually it's pretty sunny out there, so you need sunglasses, which make you look pretty cool"

A tour of a space toilet...

...with more information on cleaning up null-gravity messes than you may want to know!

Heading down from here, we get to "one of the coolest places on the Space Station, like a glass bottom boat"

You might want to take a look at this link (opens in a separate window)...

[Tracy Caldwell Dyson in the Cupola Module of the International Space Station observing the Earth below]

...the Cupola, with windows all around... (over Africa at the moment)

"That's the Soyuz spacecraft that's taking us home to Planet Earth today"

After showing us the exercise equipment, Sunita heads for the Soyuz spacecraft (a long way!)

A diversion to fly down the PMM, a big silver canister when seen from the outside - essentially a closet where things are stowed, "and a lot of fun to play in - and much bigger than the Soyuz"

Entering the Russian segment (Kevin, the next Commander, is doing the filming) "you don't need a passport either"

A long way, passing Yevgeny coming in the other direction

The Russian segment was the first section to come up to the Space Station, in 1988. The Station has been manned 12 years, and been up in space 14 years.

After another long passage... "here we are in the heart of the Space Station, really - the Service Module or Central Post". The service module is also the place to come when there's an emergency (fire, depressurization, toxic atmosphere) - "we gather here to figure out how to deal with whatever it is".

Controls to help fly in visiting spacecraft if they need it, and Russian and American computers that "help to control anything we need to on the Space Station"

Two Russian crew members, and on the wall behind them, pictures of Russian heroes of the space programme "which reminds us of our roots"

After showing us a lot of other stuff, Sunita heads down another long stretch to the Soyuz spacecraft that will take her home later today

...and at the end of that passage, she drops down another long shaft, arriving at...

...the docking probe which incoming spacecraft use to dock to the ISS (and we get an explanation of that, too)

Squeezing into the top section of the Soyuz (this part gets burnt up on re-entry - in a few hours time, in fact)

Looking up, that's Kevin, the next ISS Commander, looking down into the Soyuz

Squished into the tiny Descent Module, which has been getting made ready over the past couple of days, Sunita sitting in one of the three personalized custom-made seats (which she'll be using later today for real). "It's a pretty safe ride home... behind us is the parachute, all of our survival gear just in case we land in some strange place on the planet and nobody's there to rescue us right away..."

Some of the instruments, including hand controllers you can fly the module with

Listening to this lady, you would think she is talking about taking the bus home after a day at the office, instead of re-entering the Earth's atmosphere in a tiny capsule after a few months commanding one of humanity's outstanding political and scientific achievements. (She did get home safely, by the way.)

I take my hat off to her, and to NASA for providing us with the privilege of seeing so much detail of what goes on up there.

(Thanks so much to ensemble5 for this share.)

If you like this...

[A view of Endeavour docked to the International Space Station - and some thoughts to go with it]

From the page:

Every year in mid-August, the Earth passes through the orbit of the comet Swift-Tuttle. Although the comet is nowhere near the Earth, it leaves behind debris in the form of a meteor shower that lights up the night sky...

This NASA handout image, obtained by Reuters on August 16, 2011, shows a tweeted photograph from astronaut Ron Garan, Expedition 28 flight engineer, aboard the International Space Station on August 14 with the following caption: "What a 'Shooting Star' looks like from space, taken yesterday during Perseid Meteor Shower." The image was photographed from the orbiting complex on August 13 when it was over an area of China approximately 400 kilometers to the northwest of Beijing

The Perseid Meteor Shower is about to happen again - I'm hoping for clear skies (we might be lucky here for the next night or two).

If you like this...

[Curiosity lands on Mars - my screenshots from NASA TV]

[... and an occasional reminder to click one of the tags at the top of this post if the topic interests you!]

(Original post: August 7th, 2011)

From the page:

ISS027-E-036801 (23 May 2011) --- This image of the International Space Station and the docked space shuttle Endeavour, flying at an altitude of approximately 220 miles, was taken by Expedition 27 crew member Paolo Nespoli from the Soyuz TMA-20 following its undocking on May 23, 2011 (USA time). The pictures taken by Nespoli are the first taken of a shuttle docked to the International Space Station from the perspective of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Onboard the Soyuz were Russian cosmonaut and Expedition 27 commander Dmitry Kondratyev; Nespoli, a European Space Agency astronaut; and NASA astronaut Cady Coleman. Coleman and Nespoli were both flight engineers. The three landed in Kazakhstan later that day, completing 159 days in space.

This picture (reduced by me as carefully as possible from the awesome full-size hi-res version, which you have to download specially) is a reminder of the incredible achievement that the space shuttle programme represents. Up here, lives depend on the work of so many people in so many industries and organisations being done perfectly, with total co-operation with each other. It's such a sharp contrast with the dysfunctional unintelligent mess going on in many parts of the planet below - in Washington DC, for example.

It also reminds me that in space, the need for scientific accuracy is a matter of life and death. The kind of "science" imagined by Creationists on the planet below, for example, does not contain the kind of truths that would pass the test up here.