Only U.S. Astronaut On-Orbit During 9/11 Reflects on 10th Anniversary of Attacks

A decade ago, the 9/11 attacks killed close to three thousand people and with the chaos that ensued many more were left wondering what was going on, whether-or-not their loved ones were still alive – or what was coming next. One man in particular was more isolated than the rest of his fellow citizens on that horrific day – he was forced to watch, some 240 miles above the face of the planet – as his nation came under attack.

Frank Culbertson Jr. was the Expedition 3 Commander on the International Space Station when Islamic radicals slammed two planes into the World Trade Center in New York City and a third into the Pentagon in Washington D.C. A fourth hijacked plane, whose target was believed to be the Capitol Building in Washington D.C., was prevented from reaching its destination by passengers. The terrorists on board crashed that plane, United 93, near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

“I think like most Americans, at first I did not know what was happening – I just knew that it was bad,” said Culbertson referring to the attacks. “It was very painful; it was like seeing a wound in the side of your country, your family and your friends.”

Frank Culbertson was like most Amercans on 9/11 shocked, horrified - and more than anyone else in the world - isolated. Photo Credit:

Culbertson’s crew mates, both Russian, were Soyuz Commander Vladimir Deshurov and Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin. They offered all the support they could. Tyurin went so far as to prepare Culbertson’s favorite Borscht dinner that evening. Both of them also gave him time, time to understand and come to terms with what had happened. Russian ground controllers also worked to be supportive of Culbertson during this period. Russia’s TsUP worked to uplink information to Culbertson with whatever information they could when U.S. assets were unable to do so.

Age-wise, the ISS was still a somewhat new enterprise at the time, it had only hosted a crew for about a year – but it was already showing that people from different nations, some of whom had been hostile to one another just a short time before – could work together.

Culbertson initially was not comfortable with expressing his thoughts and feelings about 9/11. With time however; he has shared some of his thoughts regarding that day. Through it all, Culbertson has decided to focus not on anger – but hope.

Culbertson's crew mates, both Russian, did whatever they could to support Culbertson as he watched the events of 9/11 unfold from orbit. Photo Credit: NASA

“I met a veteran at Williamsburg and once he found out what I did – he looked at me and said that what is happening on the International Space Station is one of the best things that we (the U.S.) were doing, we have to work internationally to find peaceful ways to solve our problems. It’s men and women like that, the young people that are in harm’s way working to prevent events like 9/11 from taking place – that are the real heroes.”

Culbertson found even more hope when he talked to the children who were close to the attacks when they occurred.

“I had the privilege of talking to a school that was just a couple blocks away from Ground Zero and meet those kids and teachers in person. They were close to Ground Zero – but they were optimistic about the future – and as they are our future – I think we are in good hands.”

30 Replies to “Only U.S. Astronaut On-Orbit During 9/11 Reflects on 10th Anniversary of Attacks”

  1. just like those days, teh greatest enemy of the States are not outside, but inside US. They have the best jobs and 99% or the US$.

  2. This anniversary brings a sense of remorse for the utter incompetence of my nation, and the rise of manic politics in the past decade. I maintain al Queda really won. People think I am crazy for saying this, but the US did exactly what bin Ladin wanted us to do. We expended a huge amount of capital, resources, time, lost infrastructure development in various campaigns. Al Queda is primarily an organization of suicide squads, and that the whole organization is exterminated is not of much importance.

    Their great achievement was in getting a “John Wayne” administration to play world posse, Texas style, and engage in 10 years of relentless, expensive and futile war. The United States in the last 10 years has decimated its internal strength. The mentality of the American people has sunk to ever greater lows into nativism, reactionism, know-nothingism and so forth. Clearly the attacks required a response, but the action should have been in the region of Afghanistan to take out al Queda as extensively as possible, kill or capture bin Ladin and then we should have gotten the hell out of there. We should not have tried to replace the Taliban in Afghanistan with our own government, such as this worthless Karzai government, though we might have “spanked them” by killing of some of the Taliban leadership. While this nation has been spending its strength on these futile wars the rest of the world has risen up to overtake us, and given the reactionary and retrograde politics in this nation I suspect we are going to become the sick man of the world, a’la the Ottoman Empire of the 19th century, very quickly here. If that is not an example of a victory I don’t know what is.

    The Af-Iraq war cost on the order of $1trillion, and this is probably an underestimate. The total number of casualties we inflicted is about 1/2 million, where a minority of them were actual enemies, and about half of them died not from our bombs and bullets but by other means.. So we spend $2million per casualty inflicted. It costs about $50,000 to educated a public school student from K to 12. So with each casualty we spend the equivalent cost of educating 20 American children. Other cost comparisons can be drawn as well. This also tracks the general cost of military spending and operations; the costs have grown enormously. The cost trajectory illustrates how military spending and modern warfare is simply pricing itself out of existence.


    1. Always a voice of reason.. except I think you’ve got the numbers wrong? $1 trillion “is probably an underestimate.” sounds right, but seems a little low… Consider the unknown costs of ‘black ops’ like the interrogation centers run outside U.S. borders to circumvent law, payoffs to ‘warlords’ and other ‘unspoken’ costs like the interest we pay the Chinese for financing these wars. What about the ongoing cost of care for the brave young soldiers who now have lifetime healthcare issues?

      Bottom line…. we will be paying for these wars for decades.

      1. What REALLY ticks me off is that we could have used that money to go back to the moon… or even venture to Mars! Think about what THAT would have done for our economy…

      2. Yes indeed, we will be paying for this. Also, these wars will probably end in some way, and the draw down in spending will have an effect similar to the end of the Vietnam war.


      3. Two words: Union Bank… owned in no small part by the Bush family stood to gain BIG TIME from an investment in a proposed oil pipeline from Uzbekistan THRU Afghanistan into the Mediterranean back in the 90’s. This proposal was rejected outright by the leaders of the Taliban…. those butt nuggets!

      4. Yes we do have to rmember the Unocal deal, and then later the windfall for Cheney’s (Dick Cheney ran things more than Bush did any ways) Halliburton, and the oil company record profits. It is a classic case why empires fail. The profits corporations make, eg the British E. Indies Corp, are gained by the far greater loss to the chartering nation state. With the US is it is really SSDD.


      5. Yes we do have to rmember the Unocal deal, and then later the windfall for Cheney’s (Dick Cheney ran things more than Bush did any ways) Halliburton, and the oil company record profits. It is a classic case why empires fail. The profits corporations make, eg the British E. Indies Corp, are gained by the far greater loss to the chartering nation state. With the US is it is really SSDD.


  3. With all of this talk about remembering 9/11, I think the one single question that here 10 years later that I have yet to see answered is “-Why- did this happen?”. So many people are just eager to write this off on “Islamic Radicals” (including, apparently, the author of this page) but if this were the only reason, such an attack would have likely occurred long before 2001. As we remember those who died, now more than ever we should be asking ourselves “What did the United States do that angered these people to the point that they would commit such a tremendous act of violence?”. Whether it was indeed our own government and it’s policies or other reasons, there was something different in this country in 2001 that motivated those attacks and we -still- need to have this very big question answered otherwise we risk it happening again. We can not learn from the mistakes of the past if we do not know or are unwilling to acknowledge those mistakes.

    It’s important to remember those who died on 9/11 but it’s even more important that we answer the question of “why” so that others never have to suffer the same fate.

    1. indeed, why. i think you’ve got to look to the US for the answers, need for oil, the petro-dollar, securing our financial system and our resources. the project for the new american century was at work, there is no doubt. why are books authored by a member for the Able Danger team being bought by the pentagon (yes they bought the entire first run of books) and burned as late as 2010 ?
      keep asking why, brother. come to your own conclusions. i did, and it pissed me off enough to make a film about it.

    2. Do you honestly think that the sort of terrorists who perpetrated this massacre needed to have a good “reason”? Do any terrorists really have a good reason for any of their criminal acts other than a fanatically contrived & misplaced sense of zeal that is born out of fear and lies? You comments suggest that the U.S. had ought to have pursued an alternate policy abroad with respect to the Middle east to have avoided 9/11. Please… If this were the case then would we have bowed to such terror from the Germans, the Japanese, the North Koreans, or any other foe? If the Soviets had carried out acts of terror would we have changed our tact and bowed to their demands? Once the U.S. starts changing its policies to suit the needs of illiterate / brainwashed terrorists just avoid a potential attack then no aggressor will respect us at all. The Barbary pirates used to do this sort of thing until we said no thanks and went over there and spanked them. And now that we have spanked Al Qaida & the Taliban we have suffered no further attacks. Thanks.

    3. These 19 al Queda members were the maniac edge of anger against the US. However, it must be said that Muslim people did not wake up one sunny day and say, “I really hate America.” There is a backdrop which involves our meddling in this region and our previous Gulf War intervention. I read the Koran after 9/11/01 and a number of things stood out with respect to this. One is that the regions of the world under “dar es Islam” are not to be made impure by the presence of foreign invaders. Further, such invaders are to be fought relentlessly in Jihad. The Gulf War saw non-Muslim military forces conducting war close to Mecca, the heart of Islam. This is one problem with the state of Israel as well, for a “defeated religion” established itself not only in Dar es Islam,” but in a holy region to Islam. There are certain religious-cultural bases for what happened; it did not happen completely out of the blue.

      This is not to give any excuse for what happened, but there is a socio-causal reason for what happened. Within this religious context all it takes is for the more authoritarian mentalities and outright psychopaths to fill the ranks necessary to carry out the effect from this cause. We might want to prepare ourselves for the prospect that even if the US ends its interventions in the Middle East that the call for Jihad will continue. In the Muslim world there is a historical anger over the Crusades (11-12th century stuff) and resentment over the fact they, under the Ottoman Caliph, were repelled at Vienna in 1527. There is a different sense of time and history at work here, where in America people often don’t remember what happened last year.


      1. Couldn’t agree more with you! That is exactly what I think, as well, and what I try to say to other people. You have to consider history. It does repeat itself, but only because human beings do not learn from it.

        My favorite writer Karl May (I don’t know how famous he is outside of German speaking countries) wrote 100 years ago that the Orient is like a sleeping dragon. His waking would depend on us, if we would face him with love or hate. I think it was not love.

        Sadly, many people just complain that the Islam is bad. And we are good. I’m not sure, if there is really such a distinction.

      2. People may look upon this day in different ways. For myself it is a day which marks the beginning of disillusionment. It is not because the towers came down, but it is that the US responded in a way which exhausted civilized existence through the removal of governance by laws. The following is interesting:

        From Bin Laden’s letter:

        “We, alongside the mujahedeen, bled Russia for 10 years until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat,” he said in a 2004 video-tape describing what he called a “war of attrition.”

        “We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy,” he added. “All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written ‘al-Qaeda’, in order to make generals race there and to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving anything of note other than some benefits for their private corporations,” he went on.


  4. Can’t watch this video. Crappy teary-music. Doesn’t make me cry, makes me roll my eyes. I’m interested in information not emotions.

    I’d like to know more about how he found out – did mission control notify him or what?

  5. It’s too bad that the moderators allow 9/11 “truther” conspiracy nuts and other profane loser’s comments blaming things other than terrorists to be posted on this comment section.

  6. Well, ten years to the day (in Germany less than an hour) the free world was no more. The one thing that was also put to grave with all the casualties was our freedom. It has been cut back and restricted in so many ways. “In the name of freedom” the western world saves data from innocent people (that is to say, all people), just to make sure. We are forced to give our fingerprints and other biological data, just in case we might be terrorists. The “free world” punishes, slaughters, tortures, and breaks all rules of the Geneva Convention, in a “war on terror”. But sometimes, I wonder, if are really that much better than “they are”, as we claim?

    Just to make sure: I don’t defend the terrorists here. I just want to say that we seem to fight fire with fire.
    The terrorists got what they wanted: The western world has shown that it’s not better than they are. That’s like a win for them. We won’t win a “war on terror” if we answer terror with terrorism. Terrorism of other countries AND our own.

    Reminds me of that opening line of the movie “V for Vendetta”: Remember, remember, the 11th of September…. when the free world became less free.

    R.I.P. Freedom!

    That is what this date’s telling me.

    1. This is one reason I say al Queda won; they got the west to turn its back on the things which have defined our selves. It is the case that we have entered an age where we are under a much heavier layer of surveillance, which is a major step in further curtailments of liberties.


  7. Mustafa – Your tone and language highlight the mentality of those that believe what you do. I could not have asked for a better validation of my article than your comments.

  8. Reading the comments below some of these people should be ashamed of themselves.

    Make your anti American comments tomorrow. Have respect today!

    1. Anti American comments? They are not anti American! They are just against what America (and the western world as a whole) is doing right now, which is bad and dumb. I think this must be said ESPECIALLY on a day like this.
      America can do better! Much better! But with all those Republican candidates for the election next year, I’m afraid, it won’t become better soon. I hope, I’m wrong.

      Just something to think about: You do not defend freedom by cutting it. We can only defend freedom, if we live it and show it. You only teach by example and NOT by words! This can also be learned from history. And especially the history of this particular date!

  9. It should not be called “9/11 Attacks”. It should be called “9/11 Demolitions”. Just a bloody horrible conspiracy, a hoax turned into an excuse to go to war with Iraq. Cannot believe such a great country would kill 3000 of it’s own citizens for almost nothing.

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