19 April 2010
Hello from El Paso! I just arrived at the conference hotel, and as I was checking my email, I learned from spaceweather.com that the space shuttle Discovery will be making a rare type of re-entry tomorrow morning that will take it right over the lower 48 states!
Landing is scheduled for 8:48 am EDT, and it takes the shuttle about 35 minutes to traverse the path shown above. Observers in the northwestern USA will see the shuttle shortly after 5 am PDT blazing like a meteoritic fireball through the dawn sky. As Discovery makes its way east, it will enter daylight and fade into the bright blue background. If you can’t see the shuttle, however, you might be able to hear it. The shuttle produces a sonic double-boom that reaches the ground about a minute and a half after passing overhead.
Considering that I just spent most of the day flying from New York to Arizona to Texas, a path that is comparable in length to the one shown for the shuttle in that image, it really drives home just how ridiculously fast the shuttle travels. 35 minutes! And no layovers either!
If you’re in the US, check out these maps from NASA to see if the shuttle will be visible!