Can Space Tourism Save Earth?
NASA astronaut Mike Fossum, Expedition 29 commander, uses a still camera to photograph the topography of a point on Earth from a window in the Cupola of the International Space Station in 2011.
Space Station Astronauts Log One Million Photographs
April 4, 2012 --
Two Russian spacecraft -- a Soyuz and Progress cargo ship -- hang above the Earth, docked to the International Space Station (ISS) while green wisps of auroral activity complete the scene. On any average day, this photograph would be a beautiful reminder of the serenity of space and the ingenuity of mankind. But this isn't any "average" photograph. This is the one millionth photograph taken by astronauts and cosmonauts on board our orbiting outpost. This photo, along with an understated tweet from NASA astronaut Don Pettit, was posted on March 27: "1 millionth ISS photo. Part of time lapse series. Not sure who took it, Dan Burbank or myself. We can't remember pic.twitter.com/MjnkRm2S". In an email to The Atlantic, astronaut Ron Garan explained the details behind this one-millionth photo: "Almost every photo of the Earth is taken in what little free time the crew has (in our off-duty time). The crew does that because it really is enjoyable to share the view of our Earth with the public and we understand that we have a responsibility to do that." As the space station's astronauts have become more connected with Earth via social media platforms like Twitter, some incredible shots of space and life aboard the ISS have been shared with the world. Here are a few of the Discovery News editors' favorites from the "first million ISS photos" we have featured on the site.
Credit: Ron Garan/NASA
The AMS During the final shuttle mission to the ISS, NASA spacewalker Ron Garan, took an exterior shot of the ISS and the recently delivered Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) in the foreground.
MORE: An Astronaut-Eye View of the Space Station
Credit: Ron Garan/NASA
15 Sunsets Every day, the astronauts aboard the ISS see 15 sunrises and 15 sunsets. Here's one sunset that Ron Garan witnessed in 2011.
MORE: An Awe-Inspiring Space Station Odyssey
Credit: NASA/JAXA/Soichi Noguchi
Endeavour Undocks, Leaves Cupola After installing new windows for the ISS -- the cupola pictured left -- shuttle Endeavour undocked and headed home in February 2010.
MORE: Endeavour Undocks, Begins Journey Home
Image credit: Soichi Noguchi/NASA
Making Space Music NASA's Stephen Robinson plays his guitar in the bay of the newly installed cupola in February 2010.
MORE: This Is What It's All About
Colorful Aurora As solar activity intensifies, ISS astronauts have a ringside seat of the stunning auroral displays in the Earth's atmosphere. This September 2011 technicolor display highlights the different atmospheric elements reacting to the bombardment of solar plasma.
MORE: Space Station Watches Technicolor Aurora Erupt
Snaking Aurora Another beautiful auroral scene captured by an ISS astronaut in June 2010 over the southern hemisphere. The green color is caused by the excitement of atmospheric oxygen.
MORE: Spectacular Aurora Ribbon Photographed by Astronaut
Space Meteor! In this stunning photograph by NASA astronaut Ron Garan, a single Perseid meteor was captured as the piece of comet dust slammed into the Earth's atmosphere in August 2011.
MORE: Astronaut Photographs Perseid Meteor... From Space
Comet Lovejoy On Dec. 21, 2011 NASA astronaut Dan Burbank photographed the dazzling comet Lovejoy as it hung above the Earth's horizon. This photo was taken only a few days after its close encounter with the sun. The green haze in the photo is known as "airglow."
MORE: Astronaut Photographs Comet Lovejoy... From Space
Hurricane Irene In August 2011, Hurricane Irene ravaged the U.S. East Coast. From their vantage point, astronauts aboard the ISS have an unparalleled view of our planet, so events like Irene can be closely monitored. It is for this reason why there is an extensive Earth observation program of which ISS astronauts have a large part to play.
MORE: Hurricane Irene from Space
Spacewalking NASA's spacewalking astronaut Mike Fossum points at the camera as he removes a failed ammonia pump module from the ISS during the final shuttle mission to the station in July 2011.
MORE: Inside Atlantis' Final Space Station Mission
Space Station Living There are a huge number of photographs of the Earth and space phenomena, but the collection also features an intimate perspective on life aboard a space station. NASA astronaut Sandy Magnus can be seen here floating inside the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module among with months of ISS supplies during the final shuttle mission.
MORE: Inside Atlantis' Final Space Station Mission
To see more photographs from the space station and other manned NASA missions, be sure to browse the NASA Human Spaceflight gallery.
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Opening spaceflight up to the masses could help spark a global conservation ethic that stems the tide of environmental destruction on Earth, NASA's science chief says.
Seeing our fragile Earth hanging alone in the blackness of space tends to be a life-altering, or at least perspective-changing, experience. If more people around the world are treated to that unforgettable sight, humanity might handle the planet with a bit more care, said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.
"Ultimately, my vision is that lots of people get to go to space," Grunsfeld said on Saturday (May 18) at Maker Faire Bay Area, a two-day celebration of DIY science, technology and engineering. "If we get more people, we'll have folks who can articulate a view of the Earth that leads to more people who want to keep the Earth a nice place to live."
Our Changing Planet
Grunsfeld is a former NASA astronaut who flew on five space shuttle missions from 1995 to 2009, including three that serviced the space agency's iconic Hubble Space Telescope. He said the view looking down changed dramatically from his first flight to his last.
"The Earth looks totally different now," Grunsfeld said. "We are very visibly and significantly modifying the surface of the Earth, modifying the atmosphere. You can see that easily from space."
Back in the 1960s, Apollo astronauts noted that national borders aren't visible from space. But this inspiring observation, which lent some much-appreciated perspective at the height of the Cold War, is no longer true, Grunsfeld said.
"It looks like a Rand McNally map. You can see where there's rich countries and poor countries," he said. "You can see where people have agriculture and irrigation and where people don't. It's very clear."
The planet's shrinking pockets of wilderness are also clearly visible, Grunsfeld said.
"You can see the boundaries of national parks," he said. "They look like somebody's drawn a dark line around them, with trees inside and nothing outside. It's really very striking."
Spaceflight Opening Up Soon?
To date, about 530 people have flown in space, most of them NASA astronauts or Soviet/Russian cosmonauts. But the list could soon start getting much longer.
Virgin Galactic's suborbital SpaceShipTwo made its first rocket-powered test flight last month, and the six-passenger vehicle may start flying paying customers later this year or in 2014, company officials have said. About 580 people have put deposits down for a seat, signing on to pay a total of $200,000.
And SpaceShipTwo isn't the only game in town. Another suborbital craft, XCOR Aerospace's Lynx rocket plane, could be operational by about the same time as Virgin's vehicle. XCOR is charging $95,000 per seat for a ride on the two-seat Lynx.
The suborbital flights envisioned by SpaceShipTwo and Lynx will be much different, and much briefer, than an orbital mission aboard the International Space Station or NASA's now-retired space shuttle. But suborbital space travelers will experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see a black sky and the curvature of the Earth, officials with Virgin Galactic and XCOR say.
Orbital space tourism is already a reality, but the list of spaceflyers is very short. Since 2001, seven different paying customers have flown to the International Space Station aboard Russian Soyuz capsules, plunking down tens of millions of dollars for the privilege.
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