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Shuttle will play starring role in night sky

Permission granted by The Eagle Tribune N. Andover. Mass. to use this 

Shuttle will play starring role in night sky

By Courtney Paquette
Staff Writer

Residents who step into their backyards and gaze at the sky tomorrow 
night could see the space shuttle - perhaps for one of the last times.

Discovery will be launched tomorrow from the Kennedy Space Center to 
hook up with the International Space Station.

Because Discovery is lifting off at night and following a flight plan 
that directs it over New Hampshire, residents will be able to see the 
flames from its engines between seven and eight minutes after it leaves 
the launch pad at 9:35 p.m. Thursday December 7th,2006

"You'll see a moderately fast-moving yellow star," said Peter Bealo of 
Plaistow, an amateur astronomer. "It'll look like a very bright airplane."

"It should be the brightest thing in the sky, except for the moon," said 
James Ryan, a physics professor at the University of New Hampshire.

It is a rare night launch for NASA. The last one was four years ago, 
when the space shuttle Columbia lifted off in the evening to work on the 
Hubble telescope.

A shuttle's launch time is determined by where it needs to be in space 
and when it needs to return to Earth, Ryan said. Night launches are rare 
because daytime launches allow for easier landings and access to 
alternative landing sites if something goes wrong, he said.

Daytime launches also allow NASA to get better pictures of what's 
happening to the shuttle. That is why night launches were halted after 
the Columbia accident in 2003 that killed seven astronauts. A piece of 
foam broke off during the launch and damaged the ship, causing it to 
break up upon re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere.

All those elements make this nighttime launch special, and maybe one of 
the last.

"There's only another 10 to 12 shuttle launches anyhow for the whole 
program," Bealo said. "On average, there's one night launch out of eight 
or 10."

After liftoff, Discovery begins a 12-day mission to rendezvous with and 
work on the International Space Station, according to David McDonald, 
education director at the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium in Concord. 
Discovery's crew will install solar panels on the space station, which 
is supposed to be completed by 2010. That's when NASA plans to 
decommission the shuttle fleet.

Discovery also will swap one crew member, he said.

The launch, Bealo said, could be scrubbed because of bad weather. 
Yesterday, NASA said the chances of weather favorable for a launch were 
70 percent.

Good weather, clear skies and a view of a flat southern horizon are key 
to seeing the launch from spots in New Hampshire, Bealo said. He invites 
others to come to Timberlane Regional High School and watch it from the 
fields behind the school with him.

For the viewing audience

* Make sure to be outside seven minutes after the launch at 9:35 p.m. 
That's when the flames from the shuttle's engines will be visible.

* Using binoculars will allow you to see the shuttle for another 30 

* Looking to the south in an area where there are few trees and little 
artificial light will provide for optimum viewing. Good places to see 
the shuttle include Timberlane Regional High School athletic field, 
Hampton Beach, and Wingaersheek Beach in Gloucester, Mass.

* Those who would rather "fly" the space shuttle can visit the Christa 
McAuliffe Planetarium in Concord. The planetarium has a flight simulator 
that mimics flying the space shuttle Discovery.

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