Image: Ron Garan floating in the Internationa
An Awe-Inspiring Space Station Odyssey Launched aboard the Soyuz TMA-21 space vehicle on April 4, 2011, NASA astronaut Ron Garan was a part of the Expedition 27/28 crew. He remained in orbit for over five months, landing in Kazakhstan on Sept. 16. During his stay, Garan kept the world updated with a constant stream of photographs from space, capturing everything from aurorae, wildfires, hurricanes and, remarkably, a meteor. This slide show is devoted to a small selection of some of his best pictures. The entire collection can be browsed on Garan's TwitPic stream. Before leaving orbit, Garan posted a blog on the "Fragile Oasis" website about his inspiring space station odyssey. Here's some excerpts from what he had to say.
The Cupola "I've been told that when Sasha Samokutyaev, Andrey Borisenko and I land later today, we will have spent 164 days in space (162 on the International Space Station), made 2,624 orbits of the Earth, and will have flown 65,340,224 miles (but who's counting?)," Garan said. "After all this time in space, separated from the Earth, I have come to know a new existence up here. An existence that is without many of the sights, sounds, smells and feel of life on Earth, but an existence with its own share of special defining qualities." Shown here, Garan is photographed in the space station's cupola, looking down on the coast of Australia. The next day, he returned to Earth.
Aurora As energetic particles from the sun impact the upper atmosphere of Earth, a beautiful light show erupts. As solar activity was pretty high during Garan's tour of duty, he had numerous opportunities to photograph the majestic and dynamic aurora. Shown here, the green auroral light (generated by excited oxygen molecules) snakes over our planet with the constellation of Orion hanging overhead.
Irene As Hurricane Irene barreled toward the East Coast of the U.S. in August, Garan and his crewmates had the best perspective on the sheer size of the storm. Shown here, on Aug. 27, Irene had just made landfall.
Eye of Katia As hurricane season marched on, another hurricane threatened the U.S. Fortunately, Hurricane Katia proved to be less of a threat than Irene. Garan captured this detailed photograph of Katia's eye on Sept. 5 as he flew overhead. The hurricane was passing through the Caribbean, near Puerto Rico.
Texas Wildfires It's not only natural disasters spawned by hurricanes that are obvious from space. As the space station orbited over the drought-ridden state of Texas, a number of wildfires are obvious, belching smoke high into the atmosphere.
Sunglint "I will miss watching the Earth transform from day into night and night into day sixteen times a day," said Garan. The space station is treated to 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets per day, so there are endless opportunities to see how the sun transforms the land and ocean below. Shown here, sunlight bounces off the waters surrounding Newfoundland on Aug. 27.
A Meteor! In Space! "I will miss watching meteors streak across our atmosphere below us, the rapid fire paparazzi flashbulbs of lightening storms at night, and flying so close to dancing curtains of auroras that you feel like you could reach out and touch them," he said. In this impressive (and now famous) photograph, Garan's photography skills came into play, capturing a meteor during the Perseid Meteor Shower in mid-August.
Night Lights As the space station passes over the night-side of Earth, human activity is traced with light. Seen here, Garan managed to photograph the River Nile delta in Egypt...
Icebergs! An iceberg floats off Petty Harbour (Newfoundland) in the Labrador Sea. "It's bigger than my hometown of Yonkers, NY," Garan remarked.
Sunrise "I will miss looking at our beautiful planet and the grandeur of our universe from this vantage point," said Garan.
Sunset... and Moonset? Setting almost simultaneously, the sun disappears over the horizon, followed closely by a crescent moon.
The Shuttle During Space Shuttle Atlantis' (and Shuttle Program's) final mission, Garan snapped the orbiter as it approached for docking on July 10, 2011. The shuttle's cargo bay doors are open, showing the cylindrical Raffaello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module used to resupply the space station. Caribbean islands form the backdrop.
Find out what went on during the shuttle's final mission to the International Space Station in our special photographic tour.
Though Canada may be best known for putting both the space shuttle’s robotic arm and Chris Hadfield into low Earth orbit, the nation actually has a long history in space. This weekend marks the 51st anniversary of Canada becoming a spacefaring nation. Its first satellite, Alouette-I, was launched on Sept. 29, 1962.
Development of Alouette-I began with an invitation from NASA in 1958. The agency, which would go on to recruit 32 Canadian engineers into the Space Task Group the following year, reached out to its northern neighbor seeking international collaboration in its fledgeling satellite program.
Within months, two scientists with Canada’s Defense and Research Telecommunications Establishment (DRTE), John Chapman and Eldin Warren, submitted a proposal to NASA to build a satellite that could monitor the Earth’s ionosphere from orbit.
NASA accepted the proposal. A team of DRTE scientists under Chapman’s leadership set to work designing and building two identical satellites christened Alouette.
Progress was slow; not only was the space age in its infancy, this was the first time Canadian engineers had attempted to build a satellite. The team met a number of engineering setbacks, but the new technologies that emerged at the time like solar cells and transistors enabled the team to finally built a small, reliable spacecraft.
The final satellite, Alouette-I, was finished after three and a half years of construction. It was a conservative design fitted with a modest science payload that included an ionospheric sounder, a VLF receiver, an energetic particle detector, and a cosmic noise experiment.
Two dipole antennas, one measuring nearly 150 feet and the other close to 75 feet, extended from the satellite shell; both were shared by three of the experiments on the spacecraft. It weighed just under 320 pounds.
The flight ready satellite was shipped to California and launched from the Pacific Missile Range on a two-stage Thor-Agena rocket at 2:06 in the morning. It was placed into a near perfect 621-mile orbit. And then it got to work, spin-stabilized at about 1.4 rpm after its antenna had extended.
The design and engineering that had gone into Alouette-I proved to be incredibly sound. The mission was launched with a one-year life span, but its mission was extended into a 10-year mission.
But the extended mission wasn’t without some hiccups. About 500 days after launch, the spin rate slowed to an unexpected 0.6 rpm; scientists suspected the satellite’s gradual progression to a gravity gradient stabilization because its longest antenna was constantly pointing towards the Earth.
But Earth-facing antennae were a necessity on this mission since the spacecraft didn’t have a tape recorder. Scientists could only gather data as telemetry from tracking stations near Hawaii, Singapore, Australia, Europe and Central Africa, which gathered data for about six hours every day.
When operations on Alouette-I were terminated in September of 1972, no one could deny it had been a striking success. Over the course of its active life, Alouette-I gathered more than one million images of the ionosphere, and in the late 1990s a data restoration effort saved a considerable portion of high-resolution data before the telemetry tapes were finally discarded.
The second Alouette spacecraft, Alouette-2, was refurbished and flown in 1965 under a Canadian-American agreement to launch satellites under the International Satellites for Ionospheric Studies (ISIS) program. Two new satellites, ISIS I and ISIS II, launched successfully in 1969 and 1970 respectively.
It was a very good start to Canada’s now 51-year long history in space.
Photo: Launched on September 29, 1962, the Alouette-I scientific satellite marked Canada’s entry into the space age. Credit: Canadian Space Agency