International Space Station with all solar panels added photographed by Discovery as it leaves

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Here's what it looks like now:

Considering the constant debate over whether the ISS is even worth it though, I found this to be a bit funny:

"That's certainly a wonderful snapshot," the mission's lead space station flight director Kwatsi Alibaruho told reporters late Wednesday from the Johnson Space Center in Houston. "The picture I'm affectionately calling the $100 billion photograph."

The price tag is the estimated total cost of the space station that senators gave to U.S. President Barack Obama when he spoke to the astronauts yesterday. NASA has questioned the estimate, so it's "a little joke we have in Mission Control," Alibaruho said.

The station is the largest manmade structure in space and the product of international cooperation across 16 different countries. Its first segment launched in 1998. The latest - the new solar wings - can be seen as the last set on the left edge of this image (or right end to the station). They launched aboard Discovery on March 15.

With the new solar arrays, which alone cost about $298 million, the space station measures longer than a football field across. The new solar arrays double the amount of power available for science on the station. The outpost is 81 percent complete and weighs nearly 453,592 kg.

Each of its eight solar wings - four per side - have a wingspan of about 73 meters. The space station can be easily spotted from Earth by the naked eye.
Not only can it be spotted by the naked eye, but apparently you can even see what it looks like as opposed to just being a bright dot. Venus (mag. -4) is just a wee bit too small for us to be able to see its phases through the naked eye (but you can with binoculars), but the ISS is about four times brighter than Venus at -5 or -6 (depends on the angle).

The ISS is pretty big now, even compared to a number of fictional spacecraft. Note though that even though it seems to size up pretty well with the Enterprise that's because this is a 2-D image, and the ISS doesn't have even close to the depth that the Enterprise and other fictional ships most of the size comes from the solar panels. It's kind of like a butterfly in that way.


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