Shuttle and Space Station Visible in Night Sky This Week
Space shuttle Atlantis performs an orbital back flip while flying underneath the International Space Station on May 16, 2010, in this view from a camera mounted on the exterior of the station. Atlantis is flying its 32nd and final flight on the mission, NASA's STS-132 trek to the station.
Credit: NASA TV

Skywatchers across the United States have a good chance from now until Sunday of spotting the space shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station in the sky as they circle the Earth together.

Atlantis and the space station are currently flying together 220 miles (354 km) overhead, circling the globe once every 90 minutes.

Weather permitting, the space station should be visible from various locations around the world just prior to sunrise and just after sunset. It will appear even brighter than usual in the morning and evening sky because of the attached shuttle, NASA officials said in a skywatching alert.

The objects can appear as bright as Venus, depending on observing conditions, and move across the night sky much like an airplane but without blinking.

NASA officials said that there will be good sighting opportunities on Tuesday for Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee; on Wednesday for California and Texas; and on Thursday for Florida.

Information on when the spacecraft will be visible over your city is available on NASA's Johnson Space Center website.

You can also find detailed viewing opportunities by searching the Internet for one of these four popular websites:

  • Chris Peat's Heavens Above
  • Science@NASA's J-Pass
  • NASA's SkyWatch
  • Spaceweather.com

Each website will ask for your zip code or city name and respond with a list of suggested spotting times. Predictions computed a few days ahead of time are usually accurate within a few minutes. However, they can change due to the slow decay of the space station's orbit and periodic reboosts to higher altitudes. It is a good idea to check frequently for updates.

Atlantis arrived at the space station Sunday after a two-day orbital chase following its Friday launch from Florida.

The shuttle delivered the Russian-built Mini Research Module-1 to the station, and the mission's three spacewalks are focused on storing spare components outside the station, including a communications antenna, parts for the Canadian Dextre robotic arm and replacing six solar array batteries.

Atlantis' mission is slated to be its final planned spaceflight after 32 missions since the orbiter entered service in 1985. Only two more shuttle flights are scheduled (on Discovery and Endeavour, respectively) before NASA retires the orbiter fleet later this year.

SPACE.com is providing complete coverage of Atlantis' STS-132 mission to the International Space Station with Senior Writer Clara Moskowitz and Managing Editor Tariq Malik based in New York. Click here for live shuttle mission updates.