Viewing the International Space Station

By Kevin Lee
From Earth, the ISS looks like a fast-moving plane.
Stocktrek Images/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

Although it travels high above the Earth’s surface, the International Space Station is the third brightest object in the heavens. In fact, it’s so easy to see that you don’t need a telescope to spot it--assuming you know where space station is. NASA’s has provided a web service so that you can always know exactly where to look for the ISS.

Step 1

Navigate to the Sighting Location Lookup section of NASA’s Spot the Station website (link in Resources).

Step 2

Click the drop-down menus in the Location Lookup form to select your country, state or region, and city. NASA identifies over 6,700 locations over which the ISS travels. If you don’t see your location in the City drop-down menu, select the one that’s closest to you.

Step 3

Click “Next” to view a table that displays sighting locations. The table’s Date column displays the dates the ISS passes near the location you selected. Find a date you’d like to view the ISS and review the values in the Visible and Max Height columns next to that date. For instance, if you see “3 min” in the Visible column, the ISS remains visible for three minutes. The Max Height column shows the space station’s maximum elevation in degrees above the horizon.

Step 4

Review the value in the Appears column for the date you’ve chosen. This value is important because it tells you where to look. An example value might be "10 above NNE." This means that you should look 10 degrees above the horizon in the North Northeast direction. If the value was "24 above W," you’d look 24 degrees above the horizon towards the west.

Step 5

Note the values in the Disappears column. Those values are similar to the ones in the Appears columns. The value in the Disappears column tells you where to look if you’d like to see the ISS as it disappears from view. If the value for your chosen date is "13 above E," you’d look 13 degrees above the horizon towards the west to see the ISS disappear from view.

About the Author

After majoring in physics, Kevin Lee began writing professionally in 1989 when, as a software developer, he also created technical articles for the Johnson Space Center. Today this urban Texas cowboy continues to crank out high-quality software as well as non-technical articles covering a multitude of diverse topics ranging from gaming to current affairs.