Until Friday the space shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station are separately flying around the Earth. Over the next few days they can be seen as a pair of bright lights in the sky at certain times.
Weather permitting, the orbiting objects should be visible to the naked eye throughout the United States and Canada, according to SpaceWeather.com. It's a special opportunity to see the two largest man-made objects in the sky at once.
Atlantis undocked from the space station early Wednesday, ending a week-long stay to supply the outpost with spare parts. The shuttle is scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Friday morning at 9:44 a.m. EST (1444 GMT).
Seeing a satellite from Earth isn't that rare: The myriad communications satellites flying around Earth regularly appear at night as stars that look to be transiting across the heavens. But the shuttle and station are both larger than any other vehicle in orbit, and should appear much brighter than the average satellite, Space.com reports.
Before signing off from Mission Control, flight director Mike Sarafin wished the seven crew members a happy Thanksgiving and a good landing on Friday.
"We'll do our best to stay sharp until the round things stop rolling," replied commander Charles Hobaugh.
The shuttle departed as the spacecraft soared nearly 220 miles above the Pacific, just northeast of New Guinea. Over the past week, the astronauts stockpiled the outpost and performed maintenance that should keep it running for another five to 10 years.
Astronaut Nicole Stott, on her way home after three months in orbit, said goodbye to the five colleagues she left behind on the space station.
"It was a real pleasure working with you guys," she radioed. "I was blessed with a wonderful crew, and I look forward to seeing you guys on the ground real soon," The Associated Press reports.
It was also reported, according to NASA, Hobaugh, Pilot Barry Wilmore and Mission Specialists Leland Melvin, Randy Bresnik, Mike Foreman, Robert Satcher and Nicole Stott spent time yesterday getting the shuttle ready for undocking.
Stott is returning to Earth after more than 90 days in space, including 87 days on the station, 80 of them as a member of the ISS Expedition 20 and 21 crews.
Meanwhile, the ISS is now under the command of a NASA astronaut. NASA's Jeff Williams took over command of the station on Nov. 24 from Frank De Winne of the European Space Agency, who served as the first European Space Agency commander of the complex. Williams also will lead the new Expedition 22 crew along with Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev. Expedition 22 begins with the undocking of the Soyuz Monday evening. It will be the first time the station has been tended by only two crew members since July 2006, according to NASA.
But it won’t be that way for that long as Oleg Kotov of the Russian Federal Space Agency, NASA's Timothy Creamer and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Space Agency, are set to launch in another Soyuz vehicle from Kazakhstan on Dec. 21 and join Expedition 22 on the station on Dec. 23., Computerworld reports.
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