Geocaching in Space

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Mastracchio holding his geocache Travel Bug on board the ISS.

I received an email from Groundspeak yesterday announcing that geocaching Astronaut Rick Mastracchio had safely returned home from a six-month stint on the ISS. He was carrying the first Travel Bug that actually spent some time in outer space.

Mastracchio also logged the first and highest “Find” on the ISS in a cache hidden earlier on the outside of the station by fellow astronaut and geocacher Richard Garriott.

It’s hard to imagine that there are people who don’t know what geocaching is, but for the neophyte, geocaching is a grown-up treasure hunting game using GPS’s to navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates. Each cache has a logbook to sign, and may contain treasures that can be swapped, including items called Travel Bugs that travel from one geocache site to another.

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International symbol for geocaching.

So I’m telling Amy about the astronauts geocaching on the ISS, and whoa!! Just a darn minute there!! How can you geocache in space with no lines of latitude or longitude, Amy interrupts? On a moving object too? Was the ISS orbiting below a GPS satellites’ orbit, and if so, did Mastracchio utilize the GPS signals from the satellites? And if you’re not using lines of latitude and longitude, is it really geocaching, or is it just playing hide and seek? I gotta admit; there’s never a dull moment when you’re hanging around with Amy.

All good questions to ask Mastracchio next time you see him at the Pick N’ Save. In the meantime, if the weather is reasonable this weekend and you’re not afraid of the daylight, give it a try. It’s free, and all you need to do is register on, get the coordinates of some caches near you, and grab your GPS, your smart phone, or the GPS from your car. In fact, maybe I’ll try to get Amy to do some geocaching this weekend. Can’t imagine we’ll find Mastracchio’s travel bug though – the next stop for that thing is probably a cache at the Smithsonian.


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