One Astronaut’s Kids Get a Valentine’s Day View of Dad’s Office in Orbit

It’s a wonderful thing for children to look up to their fathers, but some kids have to look a little further than others — especially when dad is in command of the International Space Station!

Around 6 p.m. EST on February 14, the ISS passed over southern New England, and for a few brief moments the Station was directly above Rhode Island, at 37 miles wide the smallest state in the US. 240 miles up and heading northeast at 17,500 mph, the ISS quickly passed out of sight for anyone watching from the ground, but it was enough time for Heidi and Anthony Ford to get a view of the place where their father Kevin Ford has been living and working since the end of October… and thanks to Brown University’s historic Ladd Observatory and astronomer Robert Horton they got to see the Station up close while talking to their dad on the phone.

“One of the things [Anthony and I] like to do is to pop outside to watch dad fly over, which you can do on occasion when the timing is just right,” Heidi said. “We were looking at the schedule to see when the flyover would be so we could go see him. I remembered that the Ladd was open to the public, so I thought I’d call over there and see if this is something we could visit the Ladd to do.”

Robert Horton, an astronomer with Brown University, was happy to meet Heidi and Anthony at the Ladd for the flyover.

Heidi and Anthony Ford's view of the ISS (Robert Horton/Brown University)
Heidi and Anthony Ford’s view of the ISS (Robert Horton/Brown University)

While the Ladd’s main 12″ telescope doesn’t have the ability to track fast-moving objects like the ISS, Horton had some at home that could. So he set one of them up at the observatory and prepared to track the station during its six-minute pass.

Just before the flyby, Heidi’s phone rang — it was her dad calling from the ISS.

“He told her, ‘I’m over Texas. I’ll be there in a few minutes,’” Horton said later in an interview with Brown reporters. “Sure enough the point of light appeared in the sky and we started to track it. They could look through the eyepiece and actually make out the solar panels while they were talking with him.”

The Brown University-run Ladd Observatory holds free public viewing nights every Tuesday, weather permitting. People line up inside the 122-year-old dome to peer through its recently restored 12″ refracting telescope at objects like the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn, and local amateur astronomers set up their own ‘scopes on the observatory’s rooftop deck for additional viewing opportunities.

Heidi had told their dad that they’d be watching from Providence as he passed over, and luckily his schedule allowed him to make a phone call during that particular evening’s pass.

NASA astronauts Kevin Ford (foreground) and Tom Marshburn working with the Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR) Multi-user Droplet Combustion Apparatus (MDCA) in the ISS' Destiny laboratory on Jan. 9 (NASA)
NASA astronauts Kevin Ford (foreground) and Tom Marshburn working with the Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR) Multi-user Droplet Combustion Apparatus (MDCA) in the ISS’ Destiny laboratory on Jan. 9 (NASA)

While they had both watched flyovers before, it was the first time either of them had ever seen the ISS through a telescope.

It made for a “very special Valentine’s Day,” Heidi said.

And as for Horton, who had donated the use of his telescope? He got a chance to talk with Commander Ford as well — an experience he’ll likely never forget.

“I can think of a thousand questions to ask him now that I’m not on the phone with him,” Horton said. “But, frankly, I was awestruck at the time.”

Read more on the Brown University news article by Kevin Stacey here. (Excerpts used with permission.)

Ladd Observatory today and after its opening in 1891. (Brown University)
Ladd Observatory today and after its opening in 1891. (Brown University)

Thanks to Jim Hendrickson of Skyscrapers, Inc. for the story alert.

Endeavour to Take to the Skies One Last Time

One of NASA’s 747 SCAs carries Endeavour from Edwards to Kennedy in 2008 following its landing at Edwards to conclude shuttle mission STS-126. (NASA)

Endeavour, mounted atop NASA’s modified 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), will become the last Space Shuttle orbiter to soar aloft when it departs Monday, Sept. 17, from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a three-day flight to Los Angeles International Airport.

In cooperation with the Federal Aviation Administration, the SCA is scheduled to conduct low-level flyovers at about 1,500 feet above many locations along the planned flight path, including Cape Canaveral, Stennis Space Center, New Orleans and stopovers in both Houston and Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Read more about NASA’s SCA: “The World’s Greatest Piggy Back Ride”

Flyovers of Sacramento and San Francisco are also planned before landing at LAX on the 20th.

After arrival at LAX, Endeavour will be demated from the SCA and spend a few weeks at a United Airlines hangar undergoing preparations for transport and display. The orbiter then will travel through Inglewood and Los Angeles city streets on a 12-mile journey from the airport to the California Science Center, arriving on the evening of Oct. 13.

See a map of Endeavour’s planned route across LA here.

Beginning Oct. 30, the shuttle will be on permanent display in the science center’s Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Display Pavilion, beginning its new mission commemorating past achievements in human spaceflight and educating and inspiring future generations of explorers.

On August 16 Endeavour was moved from KSC’s Orbiter Processing Facility 2 to the Vehicle Assembly Building, where it’s being housed temporarily until its departure on the 17th. (Photo above at right; read more here.)

On May 16, 2011, Endeavour launched on its final mission, STS-134:

Completed in July 1990, Endeavour (OV-105) was the last shuttle orbiter to be constructed for NASA. Endeavour completed 25 missions, spent 299 days in orbit, and orbited Earth 4,671 times while traveling 122,883,151 miles.

On Twitter and along Endeavour’s route? NASA encourages people to share their shuttle sightings using the hashtags #spottheshuttle and #OV105, Endeavour’s orbiter vehicle designation.

Read more and find the full flight itinerary on the NASA news release.