So what do you do with a Raspberry Pi once you’ve had a go at building a webcam, a robot and a weather station? Well how about a Space Station Flyover Indicator?

Whilst watching a recent Web Show on TWiT.TV I caught the interview with Liam Kennedy, the inventor of ISS-Above who programmed a Raspberry Pi to light up whenever the International Space Station is nearby. Armed with online astronomy data he calculated the position of the ISS and then created a programme in python to flag when the ISS was within viewing range (assuming it was at night of course).

ISS-Above-Logo-smHaving a keen interest in all things space and owning a Raspberry Pi which was gathering dust in a drawer, I backed his Kickstarter, ordering an SD card with the scripts pre-loaded. Within ten minutes of sending the payment I received a nice e-mail back from Liam thanking me for backing his project and promising the card would be sent to me in early May.

And yesterday the package arrived.

Liam had included instructions on getting started and soon my station was set up awaiting the next pass over. Unfortunately the ISS wasn’t due to cross over the UK until 4am this morning so I missed the message (Rio would have seen it as it was set up in my study but I don’t suppose he was too interested in the space station flyover at that time in the morning).

Also included in the setup is a dedicated page showing the upcoming passes, with details on it’s brightness, altitude angle and whether is will be visible or not, as well as a script that sends a tweet to the ISS from my station (ISSAbove-KS-280) saying hello to the astronauts. I’ve checked the next lot of passes (it circles the Earth every 90 minutes) but at present it is only above during the early mornings at present. Later in the month it does start to arrive earlier in the evenings, through to midnight so I am looking forward to getting the ISS-Above message then going outside to see it fly over.

I am also trying to learn python coding (hence watching the TWiT.TV Coding 101 show) so had a quick peak at Kevin’s scripts but soon realised I have quite a way to go before being able to write anything myself!

End of an era

Today saw the launch of the last shuttle Atlantis, safely blasting off into space for the final time. The first launch of a shuttle, Columbia was in April 1981, which incredibly was around the same time I started seeing Tina; a long time on both counts!

I still vividly remember watching the TV when Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff, shocked that that something that seemed so safe could be allowed to happen. Unfortunately, this was not the last of the disasters to befall the shuttle programme, with the loss of the Columbia sixteen years later, but the programme continued three years later, with a further twenty or so missions finally ending today.

The legacy of the shuttle missions should not be forgotten; we now have a fully working space station which is helping the advancement of scientific knowledge and delivery of the Hubble Telescope, which has enabled us to see areas of space for the first time ever.

The highlight of the programme for me though was the witnessing of an actual launch of Atlantis on mission STS129, when Matt and I travelled to Florida in 2009. To see the sheer power of the rocket boosters lift the craft from the ground, followed shortly by the sound wave was just incredible.

With no replacement reusable space craft in the pipeline, it is sad to think that it will be a long time before mankind will be able to leave and return to the Earth in the same vehicle, almost certainly not in my lifetime.

NASA haven’t added an official feed for the takeoff on YouTube yet so I have included the launch posted by CSPAN.