Science & Tech

Spotting the ISS: Just Look to the Sky for Inspiration

International space Station

How A Thunderstorm and The International Space Station
Turned A Swim Meet Upside Down

Most people think that you need a high-powered telescope to spot the International Space Station, but believe it or not, it’s much easier than you think.

It was pushing 9pm, the final swim meet of the season was only half over, and we’d already been at the pool for more than 4 hours due, in part, to a half-hour “thunder delay” and deluge that hit during warm-ups. My girls were tired, hungry, but still eagerly anticipating the second of their two races each on the night.

International Space Station

Earlier, RocketteGirl scored a personal best in 50-meter freestyle and Lightning McQueen finished strong in backstroke. But they’d have to wait longer than expected for their breaststroke heats due to a slew of individual medley races that had been moved because of the earlier delay. This would be Lightning’s first breaststroke race, and she was determined to win her heat, if not the entire race in the 8-and-under girls division.

Just as the meet shifted from the individual medley heats to breaststroke, and as the western sky settled into a deeper shade of night, there was yet another delay. But this time, the delay wasn’t caused by nature, but by rocket science!

Over the loudspeaker, the announcer’s voice beckoned readying racers back from the poolside to join spectators in gazing skyward to witness an amazing feat of human ingenuity. In the large gaps between billowy cumulonimbus clouds, a small light steadily streaked, right to left. It could have been a small jet on its way to one of the area’s three airports. But there were no blinking lights that accompanied such aircraft. This was no jet plane.

International Space Station

This composite image, made from ten frames, shows the International Space Station, with a crew of six onboard, in silhouette as it transits the sun at roughly five miles per second, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016, from Newbury Park, California. Onboard as part of Expedition 50 are: NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson: Russian cosmonauts Andrey Borisenko, Sergey Ryzhikov, and Oleg Novitskiy: and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

It was the International Space Station!

I should note here that it was one of the high-school swimmers who tipped off the announcer so we could all learn about the impending ISS flyover. Yes, during the meet, an awesome Nerd stepped up and put science first!

The crowd watched like cats diverted by a laser pointer as the ISS followed its silent orbit across the Northern Virginia sky. A minute later, with the ISS fading from view behind an ominous cloud bank, everyone’s attention was back on the pool deck and the 6-and-unders lining up for the first of the breaststroke heats.

Ten minutes after that, with just two heats until Lightning McQueen would get to make her breaststroke debut, a lifeguard on-duty claimed to see a flash of lighting not far from where the ISS had exited the scene. Because of the possible threat of more storms in the area and lateness of the hour, the meet was officially shut down for good.

The combination of thunder delay, ISS flyover, and untimely lightning conspired to deny Lightning McQueen her potential glory in this last meet of the year. She was…distraught.

This bitter irony, of course, was NOT pointed out to her by this Imperfect Dad. I may be imperfect, but I know when to keep such things to myself.

Want to know when the next ISS flight is scheduled over your neighborhood? Check out the ISS Spot the Station site to find out! And if you’d like a virtual tour inside the ISS, look no further than Google Maps.



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