NASA is facilitating the launch of a rocket bound for the International Space Station tonight and all of New Jersey should have a front row seat to see it on its way. And if that wasn’t enough, the space station itself will also be visible at about the same time.
Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket is scheduled to launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at 6:45 p.m. and, weather permitting, the rocket should be clearly visible to the naked eye across the Garden State this evening.
“Things are looking pretty good,” said Valerie Meola, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Mount Holly. “We’re actually expecting nice skies tonight. It should be mostly clear.”
The rocket will propel a Cygnus spacecraft with a payload of 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments to the space station. It will be the fourth mission of Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus spacecraft and the first such launch tonight.
The launch should be visible for most of the Mid-Atlantic coast, providing New Jersey residents a rare opportunity to view a space-bound flight from their backyards.
How to Watch
The launch is currently scheduled for about 6:45 p.m. but is subject to change depending on conditions at the launch site. NASA will be providing updates through its Facebook and Twitter accounts throughout the day.
Prospective viewers should find an unobstructed view of the southern horizon. For those unsure of what direction to look, most smart phones now have a compass app installed on them or, at the very least, available for download.
The rocket should become visible between one and three minutes after launch and create a low arch from west to east across the southern sky.
The rocket will likely look like an orange star with a small tail as it propels itself into the upper reaches of the atmosphere. It should be visible for well over a minute as it makes its journey to orbit and toward the International Space Station.
NASA will be doing live coverage of the launch starting at noon on their UStream channel, allowing viewers with a smartphone or tablet (or anyone who doesn’t want to venture outside) to watch the launch up close as they wait for the rocket to become visible in the sky.
More information about the mission can be found here.
Bonus! Spacestation flyover
If you happen to be taking in the rocket launch tonight, you might as well try and spot it’s eventual destination — The International Space Station.
The space station will be visible for several minutes shortly before 7 p.m. in New Jersey as its orbit passes over the eastern United States.
Its position in the sky will be different depending where you are in the state, but NASA provides a lookup tool to help you find it when it becomes visible. Find it here.