Astronauts Spot Texas Wildfires From Space

Texas wildfires can be seen from space in this photo by space station astronaut Ron Garan.
Smoke wafts off the Earth from wildfires in Texas in this photo taken by space station astronaut Ron Garan on Sept. 6, 2011. (Image credit: NASA/Ron Garan)

The wildfires burning in Texas are visible all the way from space, as seen in photos by astronauts on the International Space Station.

NASA astronaut Mike Fossum was particularly saddened to see the fires, because Bastrop State Park, one of the damaged areas, is a favorite spot of his.

Fossum asked Mission Control to update him about the fires, which have raged over thousands of acres in Central Texas during the past week. The fires are thought to have been spurred by winds from Tropical Storm Lee, which swirled over the Gulf of Mexico over the weekend and made landfall on the Gulf Coast.

"Did you guys confirm that the state park Bastrop is one of the directly affected areas with the fire in that region?" Fossum asked from space on Tuesday (Sept. 6). [Gallery: Texas Wildfires Seen From Space]

"Yes Mike, unfortunately that's true," capcom Jay Marschke replied from Houston. "The news agencies are reporting up to two-thirds of the park has been burned and hundreds of homes in the area have been destroyed."

Fossum, an "avid outdoorsman," according to NASA spokeswoman Nicole Cloutier-Lemasters, was stunned.

"Oh, wow," he said. "Wow, that's rough news. Thanks. We're really thinking about all those folks through there."

Fossum has experience as a scout leader and hiker, Cloutier-Lemasters said, and counts Bastrop State Park as one of his favorite hiking spots.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected," Fossum wrote on Twitter, under the name @astro_aggie, Tuesday.

The Bastrop County Complex fire is now 30 percent contained, according to news reports. Texas, in the grip of one of the worst droughts in the states' history, has seen 3.5 million acres burn so far this year.

Fossum wasn't the only one in orbit affected by the news. His crewmate on the space station, Ron Garan, also tweeted about the fires. [Video: Texas Wildfires As Seen From Space]

"Prayers for those in harm's way," Garan wrote Tuesday under the name "Astro_Ron." Garan posted a series of photos of the fires from above, where wisps of gray smoke can be seen wafting away from our planet.

Garan and Fossum are currently living on the International Space Station along with one Japanese astronaut and three Russian cosmonauts. Garan was originally scheduled to return to Earth Sept. 8, but a Russian rocket failure has delayed his return to Sept. 15. Fossum is expected to fly back home in mid November.

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Clara Moskowitz
Assistant Managing Editor

Clara Moskowitz is a science and space writer who joined the team in 2008 and served as Assistant Managing Editor from 2011 to 2013. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She covers everything from astronomy to human spaceflight and once aced a NASTAR suborbital spaceflight training program for space missions. Clara is currently Associate Editor of Scientific American. To see her latest project is, follow Clara on Twitter.