Photo: The Space Station Turns on its Afterburners…Or Not?


Astronaut Don Pettit posted this beautiful image on his Google+ page showing a view from the space station reminiscent of science-fiction. Of course, that’s the constellation Orion off in the distance, but there’s a bit of a debate going on at Pettit’s post whether the diffusion of light seen emanating from the ISS is just light from inside the space station windows (it appears to be the Cupola) spreading out into total darkness, or if the effect is actually from a reboost of the ISS for a Debris Avoidance Maneuver that was performed around the time this image was taken.

The only clue Pettit provided is the title he gave the image, “Orion in the headlights,” which would point to the effect coming from the light shining from the Cupola windows. But the The DAM took place at 10.12 GMT (5:12 a.m. EST) on February 29, 2012 and as commenter Peter Caltner points out, “the scenic lighting effect ends exactly in [the series of images that Pettit took] at the end of the 76 seconds of the burn duration.”

The original can be found here on the NASA Gateway to Astronaut Photography website, and here’s another image in the sequence.

OK, all you imaging experts out there: until Pettit gives us the real scoop, what are your thoughts?

Thanks to Elyse David for the heads up!

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004, and has published over 6,000 articles on space exploration, astronomy, science and technology. She is the author of two books: "Eight Years to the Moon: the History of the Apollo Missions," (2019) which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible; and "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" (2016) tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond. Follow Nancy on Twitter at and and Instagram at and

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