Space station returns at dusk with Kirobo, the talking toy robot

The International Space Station returns to the evening sky this week. Credit: NASA

Early morning sky events require more effort for many of us, which is why I’ve got good news to report on the evening front. The International Space Station (ISS) will fly by at dusk for the next couple weeks over many locations in the northern hemisphere. And tomorrow it will take on a chatty robotic passenger. More about him in a minute.

While you’re out watching the Perseid meteor shower, keep an eye out for the brilliant, steady light of the ISS as it travels from west to east across the sky. There’s no consistently brighter man-made satellite out there, making the station unmistakable.

I encourage amateur astronomers with telescopes to attempt to track the ISS through the eyepiece. Use low power and point your telescope a short distance ahead of where you expect space station to be, then return to look through the eyepiece. Keep trying till you catch it. Once locked on, you won’t believe the view. The orbiter looks like a brilliant white lumpy star with orange solar panels sticking out on the sides.

Japan’s H-2B rocket lifts off from a launch pad at the Tanegashima Space Center last Sunday Aug. 4, 2013. It’s carrying the HTV-4 cargo vessel which will rendezvous with the space station tomorrow. Credit: AP Photo / Kyodo News

The station crew has been busy preparing for tomorrow’s rendezvous and berthing of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-4). The unmanned cargo vessel will deliver some five and a half tons of supplies and equipment, along with a small robot to serve as a companion to Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata when he arrives at the station in November.


A brief conversation with Kirobo

Kirobo, created by the Kibo Robot Project, is 13 inches (34 cm) tall, speaks Japanese and was designed to be a “conversation crewmate” to pass the time with in space. The Project hopes to study human-robot interactions as well as provide Wakata with a little entertainment during his long voyage.

Kirobo was put through a series of zero-gravity and other safety tests before it was deemed ready for flight. Credit: Kibo Robot Project

Tonight and tomorrow, HTV-4 and ISS will be drawing closer together as they chase each other across the sky. See if you can catch the pair. You can either go to Spaceweather’s satellite flybys and type in your zip code or log on to Heavens Above to get pass times for both craft for your town. For live tracking, drop by n2yo.com.

Below are pass times for the ISS and HTV-4 for the Duluth, Minn. region for tonight when HTV-4 and the ISS will be only 2 minutes apart:

* Aug. 8: HTV-4 pass at 9:34 p.m. and crossing nearly overhead. Max. brightness = 1st magnitude. ISS flys by two minutes later at 9:36 p.m. Brilliant overhead pass! Max. brightness: -3 magnitude or brighter than Jupiter. Second set of passes at 11:11 p.m. for HTV-4 and 11:14 p.m. for the ISS in the northern sky.

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