365DaysDate: April 20, 2009


Title: Singing the Praises of the International Space Station

Podcaster: Nancy Atkinson

Organization: Universe Today, Space Lifestyle Magazine

Links of interest for the podcast: NASA’s ISS Tracking webpage, Heaven’s Above, ESA ISS Where Is It Now Webpage.

Description: The International Space Station has been much maligned by naysayers. But its scientific worth is just now being realized, plus it is a beautiful sight in the night sky…something worth singing about!

Bio: Nancy Atkinson writes daily for Universe Today, is a writer and editor-in-chief for Space Lifestyle Magazine, is on the production team for Astronomy Cast, and is part of the IYA New Media Working Group, helping to bring this podcast to you every day of 2009. She also is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Today’s Sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by Joseph Brimacombe, a hyper-enthusiastic amateur astronomer based at the Coral Towers and Macedon Ranges observatories in Australia, and New Mexico skies in the United States and is dedicated to Lawrence Brimbacombe, my father and Sir Patrick Moore, the father of amateur astronomy in the United Kingdom, who inspired me as a boy to look upward and wonder. For more information go to: or

Hi there! I’m Nancy Atkinson, a writer for Universe and Space Lifestyle Magazine. Did you know there’s a construction project the size of two American football fields going on in orbit over your head? The International Space Station is being built by a partnership of 16 countries and it’s been called the most complex engineering project humans have ever undertaken. It all began back on November 20, 1998 when the Zarya Control Module was launched by a Russian Proton rocket. Just two weeks later on Dec. 4, 1998 — Space Shuttle Endeavour brought the Unity Node to space and attached it to Zarya, and the International Space Station was born. And at the time this podcast is airing, 32 space shuttle missions, 32 Russian Progress Resupply ships, 17 Soyuz manned capsules and 1 European automated resupply ship have come to the ISS for station construction, resupply and crew exchanges.

Since November 2 in the year 2000 astronauts and cosmonauts from the US, Canada, Russia, Europe, and Japan have lived aboard the station, and this is where humans are taking further steps in learning about long duration spaceflights, the kinds of flights we’ll have to do if we ever want to go to Mars or beyond. The crews are building, maintaining and operating the station, as well as doing research in specially built laboratories, testing the effects of long term spaceflight on the human body, as well as other biological, physical and chemical research. Other experiments are mounted on the exterior of the station to study the affect of the space environment on materials and equipment. There are greenhouses in the Destiny Laboratory and the Zvezda Module to develop good techniques for successfully growing plants in space.

The ISS is more than four times as large as the Russian Mir space station, and about five times bigger than Skylab, the US space station. When completed, the International Space Station will have a mass of about 450 metric tons, or about 1,000,000 pounds. It will measure 110 meters (360 feet) across and 90 meters (300 feet) long and have about 358 cubic meters (12,626 cubic feet) of pressurized habitable volume.

The station is powered by solar arrays that collect light from the sun and turn it into electricity. Earlier this year, a space shuttle crew brought up the fourth and final set of solar arrays, so there is now about an acre of solar panels that provide electrical power. In just a couple of months, the crew size of the station is scheduled to grow from the current number of three, to six crew members. This will be when the scientific research can begin in earnest, and I think everyone is looking forward to start reaping the benefits of long term space-based research.

All the life support systems, computers, power and navigation systems have to work autonomously or remotely from ground control teams. The different modules and components of the space station were built by different countries, and remember, they all have to fit together perfectly in space. Also, all the systems are a mix of equipment from the different countries that have to work together, too. Plus all the people on board and those working on the ground have to work together and support one another so the crews can live and work successfully in space.

So there’s a lot going on in up there in space, and as I mentioned it’s about to get busier with the increase in crew size this year.

One of the things that I think is so great about the ISS is that we can see it from Earth. There are several different websites that track the station and can tell you exactly when you will be able to see the space station from your backyard. NASA has a website, there’s Heaven’s Above, and the European Space Agency also has a site.

I still remember the first time that I saw the International Space Station. It was in December of 2000 after the first large solar arrays had been brought to the station and the outer surface area of the ISS was then big enough and bright enough that I could finally see it from my urban location. It was an awe-inspiring sight, and since then I’ve told as many people as possible about being able to see the station, and I’ve written several articles about it, too.

I also was so inspired by seeing the space station back in December of 2000 that I did something else, too. I wrote a song. Probably not very many people who know me as a journalist know that I also like to sing and write songs, and being the space geek that I am, I write songs about things like, well, satellites and space missions.

I’ve never really shared my space music with anyone before, and I was hesitant about using it in a podcast, but I finally decided it was time to come out of the closet. So here’s my debut. I hope you enjoy it, and remember to go outside and look at the stars and watch for the International Space Station, too.

(Special thanks to Mike Spainhour for playing keyboard and percussion, as well as recording and mixing.)

A Bright Light: A Song About the International Space Station
By Nancy Atkinson

A starry night with no clouds in sight;
I look to the heavens and I wait for you.
A brand new star, we call you Alpha.
The crew’s on board and the dream is coming true.

You’re a bright light moving across the sky, a bright light moving across the sky.

When you were young and just beginning,
You were built on traditions from around the world.
A global heart, a whole new spirit;
a common goal with sixteen flags unfurled.

You’re a bright light moving across the sky, a bright light moving across the sky.

We’ve so much to learn and discover; science and adventure are the same.
We’ll learn about the Earth, we’ll learn about each other.
We’ll probe the universe; that’s our space station’s aim.

You’re a bright light moving across the sky, a bright light moving across the sky.

As we reach out beyond the Earth, you are our port, our home in space.
In you we took our first steps into the new millennium.

You’re a bright light moving across the sky, a bright light moving across the sky.

Zarya, Unity, Zvezda and PMA-3. Z-1, P-6, you are our Destiny.
Leonardo, Rafaello, RMS and Donatello. Quest, Kibo, Columbus, Colbert, Pirs and Harmony.

You’re a bright light moving across the sky, a bright light moving across the sky.

A bright light, moving across the sky, a bright light moving across my life.
A bright light, moving across around the world; a bright light, you’re truly international.
A bright light, moving across the night, a bright light, a homey, king-sized satellite.
A bright light, a moving celestial sight, a bright light, I want to see you every night.
A bright light, moving across the sky, a bright light moving across the sky.
A bright light, moving across the sky, a bright light moving across the sky.

Copyright 2001, 2009 by Nancy Atkinson

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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