Leaving the station

By Phil Plait | June 7, 2011 7:33 pm

This is what it looks like when you’re looking out a Soyuz window, leaving the International Space Station with a Shuttle Orbiter docked to it:

This amazing image was taken by European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli as he was being taken back to Earth. The Soyuz was only about 200 meters from the station when he captured this shot. He’s taken some of my favorite pictures from the ISS (like this, this, and this), and I’ll miss his keen eye behind the lens.

But, I imagine, not as much as he’ll miss being there. I wonder when he’ll get another chance to go up to space?

Image credit: NASA

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Pretty pictures

Comments (20)

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  1. Una Postal Espacial « [Px] | June 8, 2011
  1. dcsohl

    OK, so what’s on the ground below?

    What? Isn’t that the game we usually play with these pictures?

  2. CVBruce

    Hey Phil,

    Got a question, to which you might know the answer. This picture shows that the solar panels are not rotated to be perpendicular to the incident sun light. Nor are they all facing in the same direction. It surprised me that they aren’t. Do the solar panels produce too much electricity, so they have to turn them away from the sun?



  3. Kurt Erlenbach

    I’ve been waiting to see the photos Nespoli took. The Soyuz landed a couple of weeks ago, and I was expecting them then. A NASA friend told me that Nespoli was supposed to take the sim card out of the camera and take it with him when he landed, but he forgot. As a result, they had to wait for the Soyuz, and the camera, to get trucked out of Kazhakstan.

  4. Calli Arcale

    CVBruce — this is not the normal attitude of the station. In fact, it’s also not the normal attitude of the station as viewed by a departing Soyuz either — truthfully, only Soyuz TMA-20 has ever had this view on departure.

    This picture was part of a series of photos specially taken to capture Endeavour at the ISS. Because of the special occasion, the station was rotated 180 degrees to give Soyuz TMA-20 a side view. This was bound to take them out of alignment, since the ISS rotated far faster than the arrays can slew.

    There’s also one other factor at play — solar arrays are not always allowed to track the Sun during docking/undocking operations. They may be fixed at whatever position they were in before the process began, even if this is not their optimal position. This may be to prevent propellant contamination, to reduce torque while in free drift mode, or other reasons. The station has batteries to carry it over.

    I would guess that in this picture, they’re fixed where they had been right before being commanded to stop moving. The starboard and port arrays do not rotate together, and the two on each side rotate in the other axis independently of one another. Their tracking rate varies depending on where the sun is at the time relative to the station’s orientation; sometimes it only makes sense to move some of them. The two on “top” in this image appear to be describing sort of a V shape, mirroring one another’s orientation. They were probably in the process of slewing to a new angle.

  5. CVBruce

    @Calli Arcale, Ok, that explains probably 90%. The pictures posted the other day that were taken from the ground, prior to the undocking procedure also show at least two of the arrays oriented in a different direction that the rest of the arrays. Obviously from the information you just gave there are many things taken into consideration when the arrays are moved. Thanks!

  6. dre

    I waa half hoping Paolo was stuck up there forever. His flickr stream was awesome.

  7. maicon

    other nice photos taken by Paolo when expedition 27 was getting back: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/multimedia/e27depart.html

    photo 33 intrigued me, being dumb as i am, i thought: isn’t that a solar panel? whats that hole? then photo 16 enlightened me, hehe. great photos

  8. Woof

    Some of those “solar arrays” aren’t solar arrays – they’re radiators.

  9. GT

    That’s a spectacular picture; one of those shots that looks like science fiction. I’m going to miss Paolo’s pictures too. Thanks for sharing it.

  10. CameronSS

    From the NASA link: “Once their vehicle was about 600 feet from the station, Mission Control Moscow, outside the Russian capital, commanded the orbiting laboratory to rotate 130 degrees. This move allowed Nespoli to capture digital photographs and high definition video of shuttle Endeavour docked to the station. “

  11. maicon

    thanks Woof! what I called a ‘hole’ in fact is a radiator peeled back, and it confirms i’m living in a (virtual) cave because it’s old news: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_incidents_involving_the_International_Space_Station#2009_.E2.80.93_Potential_ammonia_leak_from_S1_radiator_due_to_damaged_panel

  12. Nigel Depledge

    Every photographer’s dream – a space station posing for photographs!

  13. Peetle

    I see this is todays APOD as well. I’m intruiged that APOD give the image credit to NASA given that it was taken by a European astronaut from a Russian spacecraft (and presumably with a Japanese camera…). Is this how it’s usually done ?

  14. Sam H

    I just remembered – some news articles stated that the station is now “finished”. I for one am skeptical of that, but for all practical purposes that is basically true (and besides, new modules could be added at practically any time), but if this is true then NASA has made a grave mistake – THEY FORGOT TO BRING THE CHAMPAGNE!!! Even if we can’t take out on a spacewalk, and throw it at one of the modules √† la Star Trek: Generations, they could at least have some inside.

    BTW: What would the risks of that be? Since the station is meant to withstand the impacts of micrometeoroids some glass shattering on its exterior shouldn’t be a problem. The champagne itself should immediately vaporize, but what bothers me is all the glass shards – seems like a big satellite collision hazard.

    But either way: THEY MUST BRING THE CHAMPAGNE!!! (Make it non-alcoholic if you have to, just bring the stuff!!)

  15. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Sam H. : Seconded. :-)

    They ought to come up with a proper name for the International Space Station rather than just a statement of its nature acronymn to christen it as though. The space station Harmony, Tranquility or Makepeace perhaps?

    Apparently, there are plans to brew a space beer (which is more my poison of choice) but space champers could work nicely too. ūüėČ

    As for the “risks” involved I’d think they were very slight given the minute mass and size of the shards involved and the relatively low altitude of the ISS’s orbit. The golf ball drive off the ISS a few years ago (?) was a worse idea and got done so I can’t see why not.

  16. Messier Tidy Upper

    @15. Sam H :

    Even if we can’t take out on a spacewalk, and throw it at one of the modules à la Star Trek: Generations, they could at least have some inside.

    Thinking of which, did you know the original opening scene :


    was somewhat different .. and seems to have been re-booted somewhat? 8)

  17. Nigel Depledge

    @ Sam H (15) –
    Actually, a Champagne bottle is quite thick, heavy and strong. It could easily damage the ISS (micrometeorites having nowhere near the mass of a bottle of Champers).

    Also, in microgravity, the wine will simply stick to anything it touches. And Champagne leaves very sticky patches after it dries. I’m not sure you’d want that in the ISS.

  18. Sam H

    ^@ Nigel: Good points, but I did have straws in mind – standard procedure, no?

  19. ACW

    @ Kurt Erlenbach #3: Nespoli was not feeling too well upon landing; a Russian report said that he was suffering vestibular system disorders, so he must have been dizzy and nauseated for a while. Anyway, under the circumstances I think we can forgive him forgetting to take the data card with him.

    I watched the landing on NASA TV, and it was fascinating to watch the Russian space agency in action. Kondratyev and Coleman came out of the Soyuz capsule grinning and in good spirits, but Nespoli looked very unhappy and ill, and I was concerned for him at the time.


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