Mir and the good old days

From: Randy John (skysat@home.com)
Date: Thu Mar 22 2001 - 23:18:25 PST

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    As long as we are reminiscing about Mir I thought I would tell you how I did
    it in the "good old days".
    When I first got started observing satellites I would just go outside and
    look.  Of course I had heard of Mir but hadn't actually seen it (at least
    not to my knowledge).  Eventually I found out that you could call the
    National Space Society (now they have a website, http://www.nss.org/) and
    they would give you predictions for the nearest large city.  While talking
    to the person on the phone I was told that in addition to the predictions
    they also had elements.  "Let me have them", I said.  Of course I wasn't
    quite sure what to do with them now that I had them, but I persevered.
    So, what do you do with elements when you don't have a computer?  You use a
    3 inch diameter globe (filled with pennies) and a piece of string of course.
    The first thing that you do is hope that the eccentricity is close enough to
    zero so that you can ignore it.  The only two numbers that are really
    important are the inclination and the period.  Using a known pass, you lay
    the string on the globe so that it passes through your site and has max/min
    latitude the same as the inclination.  Now you can make future predictions
    since you know where Mir will be in 15, 16, 30, 31, 46 or 47 orbits from
    now.  During these passes the Earth will have rotated approximately 1, 2 or
    3 revolutions.  Of course, you had to make up for the difference between
    "approximately 1 rev" and the actual amount of time.
    Using this method I successfully predicted a pass at my dark sky site more
    than 150 miles away from the prediction city.  If you don't believe me, I
    have a picture with Mir's trail about 5 degrees above the horizon to prove
    it (I didn't actually see it).
    So the next time you complain that heavens-above is too slow - just do it
    the old fashioned way.
    ISS is certainly nice, but there will never be another Mir.
    p.s.  I still have the globe.  The string is still wrapped around the base.
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