Time for Einstein to merge with the space-time continuum. The European space cargo ship dubbed Albert Einstein will undock from the International Space Station tomorrow morning (Oct. 28) at 3:59 a.m. CDT and drop back to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere over an uninhabited part of the Pacific Ocean on November 2.
The Mac truck-sized ship was launched on June 5 and docked with the station 10 days later carrying fuel, water, oxygen, food, science experiments and special treats like aubergine parmigiana and mushroom and pesto risotto selected by Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano to share with his crewmates.
In addition to serving as cargo carrier, one of Einstein’s key functions was to boost itself and the ISS to a higher orbit using its thrusters and 2580kg of propellant. Even though the space station orbits some 250 miles above Earth’s surface, it experiences resistance from the wisps of atmosphere still present at these heady heights. Without a periodic boost from cargo ships or the station’s engines, the drag on the ship would eventually lower its orbit and send it burning up in the atmosphere.
Einstein won’t be going back empty. He’ll haul out the trash on his way home, returning in a fiery demise over the Pacific packed with six tons of garbage and human waste.
For U.S. locations, the ISS continues making passes through the first half of the new week. Times for the Duluth, Minn. region are listed below. I’m hoping that one of the satellite sites will also publish predictions for Einstein’s final passes. If they become available, I’ll post them here so some of you lucky observers can spot the ship before it’s incinerated.
To find times for evening ISS passes for your city, click over to Heavens Above or Spaceweather’s Satellite Flybys page. There are also some great phone apps available to alert you to space station fly-overs. Check out ISS Detector for Android (free) and ISS FlyOver for iPhone ($0.99).
ISS viewing times for Duluth, Minn. region:
* Tonight Oct. 27 starting at 6:47 p.m. First appears in the northwestern sky and travels across the southern sky while moving to the east. Brilliant, fine pass! Max. altitude of 51 degrees. A balled fist held at arm’s length covers 10 degrees of sky.
* Monday Oct. 28 at 7:37 p.m. Low pass in the southwest-south. Max. altitude 14 degrees.
* Tuesday Oct. 29 at 6:48 p.m. Slightly higher pass across the southwest-south. Max. altitude 22 degrees.