The Pioneering Lifestyle in Low Earth Orbit

Current ISS Configuration

Configuration of the International Space Station in May 2011, taken by Space Shuttle Endeavour at the end of the STS-134 mission.

The first element of the International Space Station (ISS) launched over fifteen years ago, on November 20, 1998. For more than thirteen years at least two human beings have been continually living off the surface of our planet. Assembly of the Space Station is now complete. It is being utilized by its crews and scientists from around the world to execute its primary mission – scientific investigations that can only be accomplished in the microgravity environment of Low Earth Orbit (LEO). As with any structure, items age, wear out, or break and need to be repaired. What could be rather “simple” repairs on Earth can become much more complex in zero gravity. In some cases, “necessity becomes the mother of invention.”

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Observe a satellite’s Morse Code message today!


If you live in the Eastern portion of the United States and the skies are clear you can see a student built satellite flashing LEDs in Morse Code today. But don’t worry. If you it’s cloudy or if you live elsewhere there are several other opportunities to see it in the coming days.

This is the Niwaka Fitsat-1. It was developed by students at the [Fukuoka Institute of Technology] and deployed from the International Space Station on October 4th. Included in the payload is an array of LEDs seen in the image above. On a set schedule these are used to flash a Morse Code message for two minutes at a time. That is what’s shown in the image on the upper right.

You can look up information on seeing Fitsat-1 in your own area using this webpage. All of the observation windows in our area require a pair of binoculars or better. We’re not sure if there is any case in which this can be seen by the naked eye.

[Thanks SWHarden and KomradBob]

Building a Yagi-Uda antenna

[Tommy Gober] built this Yagi-Uda antenna that has some handy design features. The boom is a piece of conduit with holes drilled in the appropriate places. The elements are aluminum arrow shafts; a good choice because they’re straight, relatively inexpensive, and they have #8-32 screw threads in one end. He used some threaded rod to connect both sides of the reflector and director elements. The driven elements are mounted offset so that a different machine screw for each can be connected to the appropriate conductor of the coaxial cable. The standing wave ratio comes in right where it should meaning he’ll have no trouble picking up those passing satellites as well as the International Space Station.