A New Cool Tool From NASA

National Parks take advantage of high-tech help

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Elisabeth Ocampo

You can now add a man-made wonder to the treasures available on your next trip to a national park.

Imagine lying on a blanket under a starry sky, surrounded by the granite cliffs and giant Sequoias of Yosemite National Park. You take in several deep, soul-cleansing breaths. You check your watch and turn back to the sky. Right on cue… it appears.
The International Space Station is flying 200 miles above you at 17,500 mph, a glimmering high-tech reminder of the heights that can be achieved when nations work together. 
Because the space station is more spectacular away from skyline clutter and night pollution, NASA and the National Park Service have partnered to share information with park visitors about where and when the ISS will be in view.
“The space station is an international treasure, the size of a football field, and an inspiring sight in its own right, flying through the sky at five miles per second,” said Mike Suffredini, International Space Station program manager. “But I can’t imagine a better way to share the experience with family and friends than during a trip to one our national parks.”
NASA recently imported the coordinates of 507 locations, including national parks and seashores, historic sites, monuments, and wild and scenic rivers. The Mission Control Center at Johnson Space Center in Houston uses the locations and the orbital path of the space station to predict times when people can see the station zoom across the sky. Cool, right?
Sighting predictions are available on NASA’s SkyWatch website, on NASA’s new mobile website and with NASA iPhone and iPad apps. You can specifically check the times in D.C., Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
And one bit of advice for those who never leave home without a smartphone. “It’s a good idea to check the sighting opportunities ahead of time,” said Chad Moore, director of the National Park Service night sky program. “Many remote national parks, which offer the best night sky conditions, have limited Internet and cell phone coverage.”
Park rangers who present night sky programs and park event calendars will also have the information available for park visitors.
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