When NASA?s space shuttle Endeavour landed safely on Earth Sunday night, reporters weren?t the only ones pointing cameras at the returning spaceship. An astronaut took his own snapshot of the shuttle landing from space.
Astronaut shutterbug Soichi Noguchi of Japan caught a rare view of the shuttle landing from space as the orbiter streaked through Earth?s atmosphere. His photo perch of choice: More than 200 miles (321 km) up and inside International Space Station?s brand-new Cupola, a lookout dome covered in seven windows ? including a huge round one that is the largest space window ever built.
The image shows Endeavour as it is performing a so-called S-turn, one of several turns used to slow a landing space shuttle from Mach 25, the rate they fly when they enter Earth?s atmosphere.
While the zoomed-in image appears grainy, the curve can easily be seen because of the plasma trail left behind by Endeavour as it sailed through Earth?s atmosphere. Astronauts have seen spacecraft re-enter Earth?s atmosphere in the past, but Noguchi is the first to photograph the event from the station?s new lookout.
?Space Shuttle Endeavour making S-turn during atmospheric re-entry,? Noguchi wrote on his Twitter page, where he posts mission updates and space photos as @Astro_Soichi. ?The first time it was photographed from Space Station Cupola. Priceless.?
Noguchi and the space station were flying about 220 miles (354 km) above Earth at the time he took the photograph. The station typically flies about 17,500 mph (28,163 kph) to stay in orbit, so astronauts have said they have to plan well ahead if they want to catch a clear photo of a specific target on Earth.
The station is equipped with several high resolution cameras, including NASA-issue cameras that come with 400 mm and 800 mm lenses for shuttle heat shield surveys.
The space station?s Cupola is about 10 feet (3 meters) wide and 5 feet (1.5 meters) deep and offers panoramic views of Earth and space to astronauts. It points down toward Earth from the space station?s new Tranquility module, a bus-sized room delivered by Endeavour?s crew before they left the space station on Friday. ?
The photo?s release capped a busy day on the space station, one that started with computer failures that temporarily cut communications between the orbiting lab and Earth.? It was supposed to be a day off for the station crew, so Mission Control promised to give the five astronauts aboard a free day on Wednesday to make up for it.
The space station is currently home to Noguchi, two Americans and two Russians.
Endeavour landed safely at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center in Florida Sunday night at 10:20 p.m. EST (0320 Monday GMT) to end a 14-day mission to the space station.
Noguchi, who represents the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, actually released the first photo of Earth taken through the new Cupola windows when they were opened for the first time last week. He has lived aboard the station since December and is in the middle of a six-month mission in space.
Astronauts on the space station are able to post their own images and Twitter updates thanks to a nifty space Internet connection developed by NASA.
The connection allows station astronauts to surf the Internet by using station laptop computers to control a dedicated desktop computer at NASA?s Mission Control room at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
- Images - Space Station's New Window on the World
- Stunning Space Photo Shows Shuttle in Silhouette
- Top 10 Views from an Astronaut-Photographer