Space Station Snapshot: The $100 Billion Picture
A video camera aboard space shuttle Discovery captured this image of the International Space Station shortly after undocking on March 25, 2009.
CREDIT: NASA TV
This story was updated at 10:49 p.m. EDT.
A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but NASA has one worth $100 billion.
The snapshot spotlights the International Space Station as seen by a camera on the space shuttle Discovery on Wednesday. The shuttle?s crew had just undocked from the station after eight days of orbital construction to add the last pair of solar wings to the outpost?s starboard edge.
?That?s certainly a wonderful snapshot,? the mission?s lead space station flight director Kwatsi Alibaruho told reporters late Wednesday from the Johnson Space Center in Houston. ?The picture I?m affectionately calling the $100 billion photograph.?
The price tag is the estimated total cost of the space station that senators gave to U.S. President Barack Obama when he spoke to the astronauts yesterday. NASA has questioned the estimate, so it?s ?a little joke we have in Mission Control,? Alibaruho said.
The station is the largest manmade structure in space and the product of international cooperation across 16 different countries. Its first segment launched in 1998. The latest - the new solar wings - can be seen as the last set on the left edge of this image (or right end to the station). They launched aboard Discovery on March 15.
With the new solar arrays, which alone cost about $298 million, the space station measures longer than a football field across. The new solar arrays double the amount of power available for science on the station. The outpost is 81 percent complete and weighs nearly 1 million pounds (453,592 kg).
Each of its eight solar wings - four per side - have a wingspan of about 240 feet (73 meters). The space station can be easily spotted from Earth by the naked eye.
The station is currently home to three astronauts, one each from the U.S, Russia and Japan. In late May, it is expected to double in crew size.
?It?s really just incredible?it?s almost indescribable,? Alibaruho said. ?I just feel a great sense of honor to be a part of it, and a great sense of pride in my team.?
Dan Hartman, head of the station?s mission management team, said he has spent 15 years working on the international project and was amazed to see the outpost now looking as only artist?s illustrations have shown before.
?You always saw it in the pictures, and you just wondered if we were ever going to get there,? Hartman said. ?There?s an extreme amount of pride in joy in seeing that.?
Commanded by veteran spaceflyer Lee Archambault, Discovery and its seven-astronaut crew performed three spacewalks at the station to deliver the new solar wings. They also helped repair the station?s urine recycler and swapped out a member of the space station?s crew.
The shuttle is due to land Saturday at 1:43 p.m. EDT (1743 GMT) at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., to end its 13-day mission. ?
SPACE.com is providing continuous coverage of STS-119 with reporter Clara Moskowitz and senior editor Tariq Malik in New York. Click here for mission updates and SPACE.com's live NASA TV video feed.
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