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Because it's Friday: a video tour of the International Space Station

This video tour of the International Space Station from NASA commander Sunny Williams (via Andrew Sullivan) is just amazing:   I loved, loved watching this -- it made me feel like I was six again, when I wanted to be an astronaut. I hope NASA does more videos like this to inspire more boys and girls to be scientists and aspire one day to float as effortly in Space. Do check it out this weekend if you don't have time right now, seriously it's worth it. The bit of the video where Commander Williams is in the cupola and watching the surface of Earth glide below made me wonder: just how much of the Earth can you actually see from the ISS? Google searching didn't reveal the answer, but it's just a simple bit of trigonometry, right? (Cue me spending far too long scratching diagrams and equations on paper...) We just need to find the height of the viewable spherical cap, which if my math is right is just h*r/(h+r), where h is the orbit height and r is the diameter of the Earth. (Don't you just love it when all the terms in a complex formula cancel out, and you're left with something simple?) I wrote an R function to calculate the proportion of the surface that would be visible: visible.surface <- function(r=6378,h=370) { # r - radius of planet (default: earth in km) h height satellite mean orbit alt iss)   ## find "x", depth sperical cap x > visible.surface(6378, 370) [1] 2.741553 Running some other calculations,  From the top of the world's tallest building, the 830m Burj Khalifa, you can see 0.0065% of the Earth's surface (about 33,000 square kilometers) Astronauts on the Space Shuttle (orbiting at 390km) could see at most 2.9% of the surface at a time GPS satellites (orbiting at 20,200km) have a view of 38% of the earth's surface The famous "Blue Marble" photograph shows only 43.8% of the Earth's surface An astronaut on the moon can see only 49.2% of the Earth's surface (and conversely, we on Earth see 49.8% of the Moon's surface) So it turns out you have to get a long, long way away from Earth until you can get close to seeing a complete hemisphere!

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More Stories By David Smith

David Smith is Vice President of Marketing and Community at Revolution Analytics. He has a long history with the R and statistics communities. After graduating with a degree in Statistics from the University of Adelaide, South Australia, he spent four years researching statistical methodology at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, where he also developed a number of packages for the S-PLUS statistical modeling environment. He continued his association with S-PLUS at Insightful (now TIBCO Spotfire) overseeing the product management of S-PLUS and other statistical and data mining products.<

David smith is the co-author (with Bill Venables) of the popular tutorial manual, An Introduction to R, and one of the originating developers of the ESS: Emacs Speaks Statistics project. Today, he leads marketing for REvolution R, supports R communities worldwide, and is responsible for the Revolutions blog. Prior to joining Revolution Analytics, he served as vice president of product management at Zynchros, Inc. Follow him on twitter at @RevoDavid