Watchmen of the Stars

I grew up in the heady days of the Apollo program watching Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins in Apollo 11 make that giant leap to the moon.  As a kid my father was always teaching me about the stars and planets so I have always had one eye to the sky. This is one of the many reasons I want to try to arrange an interview with a scientist or engineer from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Speakers Bureau for the documentary.

With today’s GPS, Cell phones, and other navigational tools at our disposal, we sometimes forget how difficult it was for sailors just a few decades ago. Celestial navigation, or astronavigation, is the process of finding your direction of travel and global position using the sun, moon and stars. The device known as a Sextant will locate your position by taking angular measurements between the sun, moon, a planet or stars and the visible horizon. The sun is most commonly used, but you can use the moon, a planet or one of 57 navigational stars whose coordinates are tabulated in a Nautical Almanac.

The time of measurement must be recorded to within a few seconds of the actual reading to be accurate. It usually takes two people to plot their position using a sextant, one to record the time and measurement and one to take the actual measurement. You can do it single-handed but it is more accurate and easier if you have help. After you take six or more readings you can use a formula to determine your longitude and latitude coordinates which you can then use to plot on a chart your exact location.


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