Astronauts like many people just can't get enough photos of Earth from space. But one dedicated space station crew has taken space photography to next level after shattering the all-time record for the most pictures taken during a single spaceflight.
The recent Expedition 22 crew of the International Space Station snapped 100,000 images of space and the Earth from above over a roughly six-month period. The mission ended earlier this month with a snowy landing in Kazakhstan, with a new crew blasting off today for the orbiting laboratory.
Expedition 22 commander Jeff Williams of NASA, along with flight engineers Max Suraev and Oleg Kotov of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Timothy (T.J.) Creamer of NASA, and Soichi Noguchi of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, made up the mission crew.
The photo-happy spaceflyers have brought the total number of pictures taken from the space station to a grand sum of almost 639,000 images [more views of Earth from space].
Williams broke his own previous record of 83,856 images taken during an ISS mission, set during his stint on Expedition 13 in 2006.
"This week we broke my old Exp. 13 record for number of Earth photos," Williams wrote on Twitter from the station. "Later, after landing and recovery, I will post some of best." Williams writes as "Astro_Jeff" on the microblogging site.
Noguchi, an especially avid space photographer, also frequently posts pictures he's taken from the station to his twitter feed as "Astro_Soichi."
"Mt. Fuji, JAPAN. On the morning of my 100th day on orbit :-)" he tweeted on March 30.
The bulk of the astronauts' photography will be used in scientific research about the Earth's climate and resources and how those are changing over time. NASA has been amassing data of Earth seen from space since the Gemini missions in the 1960s.
And the views from the space station recently improved. In February, the STS-130 flight of the space shuttle Endeavour delivered the largest window ever flown on a spacecraft to the station. Called the cupola, the see-through dome offers a wide-angle view of space outside the orbiting laboratory from seven windows of high-optical-quality glass.
When the space shuttle Discovery visits the station this month, it will deliver a new facility to take advantage of the cupola for remote sensing and high-resolution Earth observation photography. The apparatus, called the Window Observational Research Facility (WORF), is due to be launched on Discovery and her seven-member crew, on April 5.
Williams and Suraev recently landed aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on the steppes of Kazakhstan March 18. Meanwhile, Kotov has taken over the station helm as Expedition 23 commander, with Noguchi and Creamer staying on as Expedition 23 flight engineers.
Early Friday, a new Russian Soyuz spacecraft launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan carrying one American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts to join Kotov, Creamer and Noguchi on the space station.
That Soyuz TMA-18 spacecraft is slated to arrive at the space station on April 4, one day before Discovery is due to launch toward the orbiting laboratory.
Liftoff of Discovery is currently scheduled for 6:21 a.m. EDT (1021 GMT) on Monday morning, with favorable weather conditions expected for the launch, mission managers have said.
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