STS-117 Atlantis and International Space Station Pass

STS-117 Atlantis and International Space Station Pass
STS-117 Atlantis and International Space Station Pass, June 20, 2007

It's been many years since I've gone outside for the sole purpose of watching a satellite or the Shuttle pass overhead. Before there was the Internet, there was a DOS program called SatTrack I think. Or maybe it was STSPlus. I seem to recall that the author was from Alabama. Anyway I would feed in the orbital elements to see what was going over and head out for a look. Seeing the Mir space station was a favorite of mine. When I learned that tonight both the Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-117) and the International Space Station would be passing over, I decided to grab my digital camera and try to capture the moment, something I had not previously done.

Before heading outside, I reconfirmed the details of the pass using data from the Heavens Above web site. Following is the most pertinent data:


Event Time Altitude Azimuth Distance (km)
Rises above horizon 21:49:57 300° (WNW) 2,120
Reaches 10° altitude 21:51:59 10° 295° (WNW) 1,284
Maximum altitude 21:54:47 47° 217° (SW ) 458
Enters shadow 21:56:03 25° 158° (SSE) 727


Event Time Altitude Azimuth Distance (km)
Rises above horizon 21:49:58 300° (WNW) 2,121
Reaches 10° altitude 21:52:00 10° 295° (WNW) 1,285
Maximum altitude 21:54:48 47° 217° (SW ) 459
Enters shadow 21:56:04 25° 158° (SSE) 729

The visual magnitude for Atlantis and ISS were given as -0.9 and -0.4 respectively. This combined with the pass times told me that STS would be in the lead as the pair moved across the sky from northwest to southeast and that Atlantis would be the brighter of the two. I grabbed my pager and set its alarm to sound about two minutes before the start of the pass.

Stepping outside, I quickly inspected the sky. While it was not the best of skies, it was clear enough that sighting the space shuttle and space station pair wouldn't be a problem. Me and my youngest son Thomas then walked to a near-by soccer field, which has a good horizon line, about 10 minutes before the pass. I wanted to have time to get set up and to experiment with shooting images of the Moon using a variety of settings. The last thing that I wanted to be doing was fiddling with camera settings while the pass was in progress.

My son Thomas gets credit for being the first to spot the pair as they traveled over our site. I was able to take several shots while simultaneously trying to answer my son's questions about what he was seeing.

Following the pass, we headed back home. My son was somewhat disappointed – he expected to “see” the shuttle and the space station. His disappointment diminished when I explained to him how much farther away the shuttle and space station were as compared to the commercial jets that we observed at approximately the same time.

In the picture shown here, Jupiter is the bright “star” in the lower left hand corner of the picture. The bright streak of light in the center of the picture is the Space Shuttle Atlantis and the slightly dimmer streak of light in the upper right hand corner is the International Space Station. The pair were about one second of time apart and were traveling from the upper right to lower left in the frame.

Following are the camera settings used for the above photograph:
Nikon D50
2007/06/20 21:02:54.5
Compressed RAW (12-bit)
Image Size: Large (3008 x 2000)
Lens: 28-80mm F/3.3-5.6 G
Focal Length: 28mm
Exposure Mode: Manual
Metering Mode: Multi-Pattern
5 sec – F/7.1
Exposure Comp.: 0 EV
Sensitivity: ISO 1600
Optimize Image: Normal
White Balance: Preset
AF Mode: Manual
Flash Sync Mode: Not Attached
Auto Flash Comp: 0 EV
Color Mode: Mode IIIa (sRGB)
Tone Comp.: Auto
Hue Adjustment: 0°
Saturation: Normal
Sharpening: Auto
Image Comment:
Long Exposure NR: Off

I believe that the best part of this photographic experience was taking the opportunity to use my digital camera in a way I hadn't previously. Novel shooting situations should be sought out, not avoided.

Ad Astra, Jim

| Return to the Blog Index | This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 20th, 2007 at 10:58 pmand is filed under Digital Photography.

2 Responses to “STS-117 Atlantis and International Space Station Pass”

  1. S. Gillis says:
    September 1, 2007 at 12:03 pm

    First, let me say…….at least your “anti-spam” captcha was easy to read! Please! Second………nice shot of the space station. Good thing Thomas was there or you'd probably missed it old man!

  2. Plaxco says:
    September 1, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    Hey there,

    I can't tell you how many times I've come across sites with next to impossible to decipher captchas so my test was a tool that created captchas that I could actually read.

    I was rather please with how the shuttle and station image turned out. I took several good shots but opted to go with the one shown here as it includes Jupiter in the field of view.

    And yep, getting old is a pain, especially bad for the astronomical types as our night vision seems to be the first thing that goes.

    But of course getting old is better than the alternative…

    Best Regards, Jim