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
[Update: ARG! In the original post, I had put up a picture that did not have Endeavour docked to the Space Station. My mistake; I grabbed the wrong image from Dani. I have fixed it below. Sorry for any inconvenience.]
Endeavour is safely back on Earth. But while it was docked to the International Space Station, it cast a long, long shadow… which you can see in this astonishing picture:
[Click to ungdwarfenate.]
Cool, isn’t it? I know, it’s small — you can see it more clearly in the full-res picture — but here’s a close-up:
You can now see the ISS much better (along with a sunspot — note that spot below the ISS is roughly the size of the Earth!); Endeavour is the long fuzzy bump on the top of the horizontal bar on the upper right going between the two sets of solar panels.
This picture was taken by Spanish photographer Dani Caxete, amazingly using just a 12.5 cm (5 inch) telescope. He has a gorgeous series of photos on Flickr which is well worth checking out, including this very cool one showing a series of video frames of the ISS crossing the Moon, and a very moody shot of the ISS and Sun with some clouds adding a sense of foreboding.
It’s funny: I know the math. At the distance of the ISS over the ground (350 km), the human eye has just enough resolution to see the space station as more than a dot. Maybe a very slightly elongated dot. Through binoculars you should be able to detect the solar panels, and through a good telescope far more detail is apparent.
But still, to see it in a photo makes the math real. That’s a spaceship and you can see it! That’s pretty nifty.
And we still have one left. Atlantis is scheduled to launch on July 8. I certainly hope that there are more photogenic opportunities like this one, and there are more photographers out there like Dani willing to try to capture it.
Image credit: Dani Caxete, used with permission. My thanks to Manu Arregi for pointing Dani’s work out to me!
Last night, at 06:35 UTC, the Space Shuttle Orbiter Endeavour came down from space for the last time, safely landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
[Click to embiggen.]
On its last mission, Endeavour traveled over 10 million km (6.5 million miles) and the mission lasted for 15 days, 17 hours, 38 minutes, and 51 seconds. Since its first launch in 1992, it flew a total of 25 missions — it was built to replace Challenger, the first of two Orbiters lost — most notably, for me at least, was the first Hubble Space Telescope reservicing mission in late 1993.
Endeavour was named after the famed ship sailed by Captain James Cook. This was the same ship he took in 1769 to the South Pacific to observe the very rare transit of Venus across the Sun’s face, in the hopes of determining the size and scale of the solar system. Quite the legacy.
As I wrote when Discovery touched down for the last time: I’d say "Welcome home", but the ground is not a spaceship’s home.
NASA just released this breath-taking picture of the Orbiter Endeavour, taken on May 28th, just a day before it undocked from the International Space Station and began to make its way to Earth:
[Click to enshuttlenate.]
Incredible. The exposure time was long enough to show city lights streaking under the station, and I suspect tracked on the stars long enough to make them clear and obvious. I can’t identify the stars, but I think the southern dark nebula the Coal Sack can be seen on the left just above the limb of the Earth. I have no idea what cities we’re seeing here — don’t get me started! — but all together the elements here are simply and literally other worldly.
Endeavour is due to land on June 1st at 02:32 EDT (06:32 UTC).
Image credit: NASA
[UPDATE: Right after I posted this, NASA put up another incredible image of the Orbiter against the starry background. Amazing!]
What’s it like to ride up on the Shuttle to space? If you were, say, strapped to the solid rocket boosters?
Pretty cool. I love seeing these views; I’ve watched a bazillion launches on video (and one from 10 km away in 1997), so the stack rocking as the liquid fuel ignites, the sudden leap when the SRBs go off, the roll maneuver a few seconds later — they’re all familiar. Seeing them from the point of view of the Shuttle itself is nifty.
Note what happens 45 seconds into the video: Endeavour blows through the cloud deck. That moment, from the ground, is a lot more dramatic, especially when photographed by Trey Ratcliff. It’s really amazing to tie together what we see from the ground with what’s seen from the rocket.
This is the last flight of Endeavour; it’s scheduled to land in Florida on June 1 at 2:32 a.m. Eastern US time (06:32 UTC). The last Shuttle launch will be Atlantis, scheduled for July 8 at 11:40 a.m. EDT (15:40 UTC).
After the Columbia Orbiter tragedy, NASA changed the safety protocols for Shuttle missions to the International Space Station. When an Orbiter gets there, it performs a slow pitch so that astronauts on ISS can take a good look for any damage that might have occurred during takeoff. It’s a serious procedure, but during it they get really intense pictures of the Orbiter.
This dramatic shot [click to enspaceplanenate] was taken on May 18, 2011, shortly after Endeavour made its final rendezvous with ISS. It’s a view we don’t get when the Orbiters sit on the ground.
They also snapped this lovely shot of Endeavour’s wing shortly before docking. It’s an important picture — they are looking for potentially mission-threatening damage, after all! — but it’s also a beautiful one, well-lit, crafted, and executed. You should check out this picture, too, with the Orbiter’s payload bay doors open, and a tiny Moon in the background.
I may not be a 100% true fan of the Space Shuttle, but for many years it provided us with access to space. Flawed as the project is and was, these are magnificent machines, capable of doing a huge amount of work. As I write this, in fact, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer 2 is being deployed on the ISS from Endeavour. AMS will investigate dark matter, antimatter, and other cosmological mysteries. It’s the grandest science, in my opinion, that has been done on ISS to date. I’m glad it’s up there, but I wish there were much, much more science to join it.
The next Shuttle launch is for Atlantis, its last, and the last of all the Shuttles. It’s currently scheduled for July 8 at 11:35 EDT, returning to Earth on July 20… interestingly, the anniversary of the day Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon.
Images credit: NASA
When the Shuttle Endeavour launched yesterday at 08:56 EDT from Kennedy Space Center, I was somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean flying home. Had I been a few hundred kilometers farther south I might have spotted it, assuming I was awake and on the left side of the plane. But some things are hard to plan.
Happily, photographer Trey Ratcliff thought ahead a bit more than I did, and took this astonishing picture of Endeavour roaring into the sky for the last time:
Sigh. So lovely! And so dreamlike…
but that’s because he shot several photos and combined them using High Dynamic Range (HDR) processing. In a nutshell, you take three exposures. In one, you set the exposures and other settings for the dim parts of the scene, in another you expose for the brighter parts, and in a third you take the medium road. Combining them leads to this other-worldly, ethereal picture quality. [Update: as Trey himself notes in the comments below, this particular shot was not multiple-frame HDR, but shot as a single image. I assumed it was multiple shot HDR because a) he's written tutorials about it and 2) it really looked like it to me! Mea culpa.]
I love how the Shuttle’s flame lights up the clouds, and the trail of smoke draws your eye from the bottom of the frame right into the spot where the cloud is afire. In my mind the mushroom-cloud symbolism is strong, but not on purpose and there’s no real obvious metaphoric connection. Funny though.
Trey’s other images are equally amazing and well worth your time perusing, too. You should also check out the pictures taken by Stefanie Gordon, who did happen to have a view from an airplane, and who tweeted her shots. They’re really cool!
Image credit: Trey Ratcliff (used under Creative Commons licensing). Tip o’ the lens cap to my pal Lila Mae (warning: she swears a lot and is generally saucy).
This flight will be notable for several reasons, besides the obvious. For one, it will bring the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 to the station. For another, it will feature the last suite of Shuttle astronaut spacewalks; four in total. Also, the Commander is Mark Kelly, husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who was shot in Arizona in January. There are plans for her to attend the launch, which would be very nice.
I will be on travel that day (as usual, sigh) but I might be home in time to watch the flight and live tweet it. If not, stay tuned to NASA TV to watch it live. You can get more info on the Shuttle at NASA’s site.
After this 14 day flight, there is one more scheduled Shuttle flight: Atlantis, in June.
The final scheduled launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour has been moved from April 19 to April 29. The earlier date would have interfered with a Russian Progress vehicle that is scheduled to send supplies to the International Space Station on the 29th. I know, that sounds funny, but a 2-week long Shuttle mission means it would have been docked to the ISS during the Progress mission, so it’s better to launch the Shuttle once Progress is already up there.
The date isn’t set in stone yet, so those of you planning a vacation around the launch should stay tuned. But I’ll be honest: with delays and all that, actually planning travel around a Shuttle launch is pretty risky, as is obvious from this 10-day rescheduling. But if you happen to be in Florida for the launch, terrific! It truly is an amazing thing to watch.
I’ll have more news on the launch here as I find it.
On Thursday, March 10, the Space Shuttle Endeavour began its last 5 km trek to the launch pad.
When it launches on April 19 (scheduled at 19:48 EDT), Endeavour will bring parts and supplies to the International Space Station, as usual, but it will also be carrying the 7 ton the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2, a scientific instrument that, among many goals, will try to detect antimatter (to solve a long-standing puzzle of why so little exists in our Universe) and look for the subatomic signature of dark matter.
This will be Endeavour’s final scheduled flight.
Image Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann