What you are about to read here is something you will never, ever, ever see on a conspiracy theory site: an admission that the theory is wrong.
Now, my last blog post was obviously tongue-in-cheek (though I expect some wacko website will quote it like it’s real, even saying it came from a real astronomer and everything!), but at its core it’s correct; the image was faked. My arguments are basically sound; the bright Earth, interior lights, and internal reflections would make it impossible to see stars out the window.
So what’s the deal with the picture then? I did something no conspiracy theorist ever actually does: I asked someone who might actually know what’s going on. I sent an email to the gallery curator for the NASA pictures (the email is at the bottom of the images page), and got a nice reply back from Mary Wilkerson, the Still Imagery Repository Supervisor. Basically, the cockpit had been redesigned on the Shuttle, and they wanted a promo shot of the new configuration. It made its premier flight on STS-101, so they wanted to get a slick shot of it. They composited in the Earth and stars to make the picture spacier-looking. Incidentally, the image is also on Wikipedia, with a caption that does note it was composited.
So the image was faked, and probably should be labeled that way, but there’s no harm and no foul. Obviously, there’s no evil or malicious intent here…