Recently the International Space Station turned itself to position the European Space Agency's SOLAR instrument for a better view of the sun. It was the first time the station changed attitude for scientific reasons alone.
"The European scientists requested this so they could increase science and bridge over the two solar cycles," said Julie Robinson, International Space Station Program scientist. "The International Space Station Program took a look at the request and we were glad that we could change attitude to support the scientists."
SOLAR has been monitoring our sun's output since it was installed on ESA's Columbus laboratory module in February 2008. The package will celebrate its fifth anniversary next year.
"That is quite an achievement," says Nadia This, operations engineer at the Belgian User Support and Operations Centre, which controls SOLAR. "The instrument was designed to work for only 18 months."
SOLAR needs to be in direct view of the sun to take measurements but the space station's normal orbit obscures the view for two weeks every month.