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Looking Down on California

May 4, 2011

So I’ve been noodling around with recording the video from the rather lovely streaming video feed from the International Space Station. The direction is an utter crapshoot. Sometimes it’s straight down, sometimes it’s pointed in some random (yet pretty) direction. When they’re orbiting over some random country, this is great, but when it’s over California, it’s stress inducing.

On Sunday, the ISS passed directly over SF (well, San Mateo, but hey, 87º vs 90º overhead, I was not complaining). The sky was far too bright for us to see it  — I think something has to be magnitude -4 to be visible during the day, but the ISS rarely gets above -2 or -3. But it could see us.

So Sunday at 5PM I’m all geeking out with VLC and trying to explain to my 2.75 year old daughter why she can’t watch Elmo or hockey, and that daddy is conducting Important Science. She sat on my lap and humored me while I transcoded video from an .asx feed to .mp4 and got a lovely view of the Pacific Ocean with North America creeping slowly towards us.

However, some astronaut (all of whom I love dearly) had decided to POINT THE CAMERA TO THE HORIZON AND TO THE LEFT OF THE DIRECTION OF TRAVEL. When they were going directly over us. On a sunny, fogless day. Which means SF wouldn’t be centered. Needless to say, I was conducting a dynamic inner dialog, but hey, what can I do as I’m no astronaut and am highly entertained by any sort of pictures from space, never mind video.

So here’s what they saw of us – the camera barely caught us in the top-right corner.

And here’s a link to the elegant and calm-inducing video over at TwitVid (note to readers – uploading video to TwitPic seems to be an exercise in futility. And yes, I flipped the picture, so SF is in the bottom left in the video. Sorry that it gets jerky over Nevada, transcoding on the Mac doesn’t seem all that solid.)

My annotations. I was really surprised by the number of contrails. The ones from Seattle/Portland/Vancouver are obvious, and I suspect the ones in the middle are from China/Japan to LAX.  Not quite sure where those two on the right are from.  Hawaii?

Anyway, I am undeterred and persist in my SF-ISS video quest. I use my trusty Satellites iPhone app and n2yo.com to figure out when the next daytime pass is.  Tuesday at 3PM, awesome! Of course, everything goes wrong — I’m at work, I lose track of time and I don’t have my regular computer with me, so I have to quickly install VLC on some POS PC and hope the recording works. And I end up with a 15MB file that doesn’t open.  (Rant: dear video people — your containers suck. .ps? Seriously?) Anyway, even the almighty VLC (which created it) can’t open it, but I digress.

But if you are brave and want to try to convert the mpeg encoded .ps file of mystery, please have at it. (I can see a few frames in mplayer, but nothing else I have (even Handbrake) can open it.  VLC experts said they could play it in mmplay.)

Of course, being utterly paranoid, I took a bunch of screenshots which I was able to jam into an animated GIF, the BEST FORMAT EVER DEVISED BY MAN. I’m telling you, 1.5 million years from now, intelligent penguins will be using animated GIFs.  Animated GIFs are the cockroaches of image and video formats.  Historians will love this shit. It. Just. Works.

SO BEHOLD, a jerky animated GIF of the International Space Station passing over California, making a beeline for San Francisco. (Hint — look for either Monterey Bay and look right, or Pt. Reyes and look left.) Frame rate slowed at the end for dramatic intent.

I’ve enhanced the money shot and rotated it to tradition N/S in case you are still horrifically confused.

Makes that drive to San Jose look short, eh?  I’m rather surprised how grey that SF / the Peninsula / Valley / East Bay looks. Hi snowpack! Anyway, if I get the video figured out, I’ll upload it. Awesome as animated GIFs are, the smooth video and dramatic revelation of San Francisco Bay is rather lovely.

Hey, @NASA, not that I don’t love this feed, but how about a few HD cameras with zoom? One with the oblique shot, one straight down, and one aft?

Oh, hey, I almost forgot, here’s timelapse shot of the ISS passing to the south of SF around 9:35PM this evening. It moves pretty damn fast — that’s a one minute exposure.

And the Big Dipper, just because.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. aidan permalink
    May 5, 2011 10:11 am

    excellent work again! that long exposure shot is seriously awesome

  2. Chip permalink
    May 6, 2011 9:22 am

    snowpack indeed. late season skiing plans just revalidated

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