A NASA Engineer Explains How You Give Directions in Space

February 10, 2015 4:05 AM

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Navigation requires a reference frame. We need reference frames to tell us where we are with respect to other objects and we need reference frames to tell us how we are oriented with respect to other objects. There is no single universal frame that is used for all operations. Typically, the reference frame that most simplifies the mathematics and visualization is used for a particular objective. For example, just for the International Space Station (ISS), we use more than 15 reference frames.

There is a reference frame that is helpful for pinpointing a location within the ISS. It is Cartesian and gives locations with respect to forward and aft, starboard and port, overhead and deck. Another frame is used for structural calculations and gives ISS hardware locations in terms of X, Y, and Z...

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