From Space, With Love: Astronauts Send Earth Cosmic Valentine
Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi sent this Space Valentine to his Twitter followers on Earth. It shows the heart-shaped Coral Island in southeast Asia as seen from the International Space Station, where Noguchi is living and working on the Expedition 22 crew.
Credit: NASA.

It may be the ultimate long-distance relationship, but the gulf between Earth and space hasn't kept astronauts in orbit from sending a valentine to their favorite planet.

Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi beamed the cosmic love note to Earth from 220 miles (354 km) up aboard the International Space Station just in time for Valentine's Day.

"Happy Valentines Day from Space to all of my followers on this beautiful planet!" Noguchi posted on his Twitter page late Saturday. He writes as @Astro_Soichi and has more than 75,400 followers as of this morning.

Noguchi even sent a card. It featured an astronaut's photo of Coral Island in southeast Asia, which looks curiously like a heart.  

Noguchi represents the Japan's space agency and has lived aboard the space station with four other crewmates (two from Russia, and two from the United States) since December. NASA's space shuttle Endeavour, with its own crew of six astronauts, is currently visiting the station, boosting its population to 11 people.

But don't expect any Valentine's Day shindigs in orbit.

No time for love (in space)

The station and shuttle astronauts are in the midst of a nine-day joint construction job to install a brand-new room and space observation deck at the orbiting laboratory.

The new $382 million room, called Tranquility, is the size of a small bus and already attached to the station's left side. The astronauts switched on its lights, ventilation and cooling system early this morning,

The astronauts have also finished the second of three planned spacewalks (the next one is slated forTuesday) and are hoping to move a much-anticipated observation dome to an Earth-facing berth later in the flight. That move is currently pending the resolution of some clearance issues between a vital insulation cover on Tranquility and some metal parts inside the space window unit.

The dome, a $27.2 million addition for the space station, has six windows arranged around a huge round pane that is the largest space window ever launched. It should provide an unprecedented panoramic view of Earth for astronauts once installed.

All that space construction has the astronauts hopping.

Endeavour mission specialist Kathryn Hire said Saturday that she's been so focused working on the new Tranquility module that she forgot Valentine's Day was coming up.

"Sometimes we have to actually remind ourselves every now and then what day it is," Hire said in a televised interview.

But Valentine's Day is not something Endeavour pilot Terry Virts could forget. After all, it is the same day as his wife Stacy's birthday.

"I have a birthday and a Valentine's Day," Virts said. "So it's hard for me to forget."

Long-distance call

This Valentine's Day is also the 20th anniversary of an iconic space photo taken by NASA's Voyager 1 probe during it tour of the solar system in the late 1970s and 1980s.

On Feb. 14, 1980, the deep space probe took an image of Earth from a distance of nearly 4 billion miles (6 billion km) as it headed outside our solar system.

The image showed Earth, home to billions of human beings, as little more than a point of light in a sea of other lights.

Voyager 1 also took snapshots of Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, a crescent of Mars, and Venus. Mercury was too close to the sun and Pluto was too dim.

But it was the probe's view of Earth that inspired the late famed astronomer Carl Sagan, then a Voyager 1 imaging team member, to call our home planet a "pale blue dot."

"It captured the Earth as a speck of light in the vastness of the solar system, which is our local neighborhood in the Milky Way galaxy, in a universe replete with galaxies," saidid Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif.

Voyager 1 and its twin Voyager 2 are still sending transmissions back to Earth. They launched in 1977.

Voyager 1 is currently more than 10 billion miles (almost 17 billion km) from the sun. It and Voyager 2 are headed for the boundary of a bubble created by sun that surrounds all of the planets in our solar system.

"We were marveling at the vastness of space when this portrait was taken, but 20 years later, we're still inside the bubble," Stone said. "Voyager 1 may leave the solar bubble in five more years, but the family portrait gives you a sense of the scale of our neighborhood and that there is a great deal beyond it yet to be discovered."