Monday, January 08, 2007

Nasa TV

Through a window of the International Space Station (ISS), I can see the dark nocturnal earth underneath slowly rotating towards a new day. On the bent horizon, the atmosphere can be distinguished as a thin blue streak. Just above that streak, the first rays of harsh white sunlight begin to peak over the horizon, slowly blinding the sight. I watch this spectacle for a couple of minutes, when suddenly the station's creaking intercom radio jumps on : My, my ! At Waterloooo Napoleon did surrender... The familiar song continues for about a minute, and is then interrupted by a very American voice : Good morning ISS! This is Houston, I hope you liked our little wake-up song, time to get to work, folks!

No, this is not a movie scene from a science fiction film.
It's NASA TV, a streaming internet TV channel where you can follow NASA missions in real time. Just check out the mission dates, and tune in via I watched the space shuttle Discovery mission STS-116 last month and it was great. You can actually hear all the communications between the shuttle and mission control. It's really exciting, especially when you know how little it takes to turn the mission into an infernal disaster (Challenger, Columbia) For example : when Challenger re-entered the atmosphere (an incredibly dangerous procedure) after completing its last mission ever, a loose heatshield tile made the spacecraft desintegrate completely when soaring very high over Texas. Now, when Discovery re-entered last month, I was following every step of it on Nasa TV, and along with the flight controllers in Houston, I held my breath when the re-entry process commenced, and let out a big sigh of relief when the orbiter finally became visible in the skies above Florida. It really is fantastic when you can watch such a spacecraft touch down safely when you've followed almost every step of its mission in real time from behind your TV screen.



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