How To Take Photos Of Earth While Whizzing At 17,000 MPH

When you’re flying above Earth in a spaceship or space station, taking a clear picture below is more than a point-and-shoot job. As NASA astronaut Don Pettit explains in this video, you need to account for the motion of your little craft to get the best pictures below. And Pettit should know, being a photographer who captured many stunning timelapses in space.

“Apart from everything else an astronaut does on orbit, photography is actually part of our job,” Pettit said in the video. “We take pictures of Earth and the surroundings of Earth, the upper atmosphere. These pictures, in themselves, represent a scientific dataset, recorded now for over 14 years.”

The video is called “From Above” and is a production of SmugMug films, who also did an interview with Pettit. As it turns out, much of the photography taken in space is not of Earth — it’s engineering photography of window smudges or electrical connections to help diagnose problems happening in space.

“These things need to be documented so the images can be downlinked for engineers on the ground to assess what’s happening to the systems on space station,” Pettit said in the interview. “We get training specifically on doing these engineering images, which, for the most part, are not really interesting to the public.”

Expedition 31 Blasts Off!

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After a six-week delay, the crew of Expedition 31 successfully launched aboard a Soyuz TMA-04M rocket on Tuesday, May 15 at 0301 GMT (11:01 p.m. EDT May 14) from Russia’s historic Baikonur Cosmodrome, located in the steppes of Kazakhstan.

The rocket will deliver NASA astronaut Joe Acaba and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin to the International Space Station. After a two-day journey, their Soyuz capsule will dock with the ISS at 11:38 p.m. CDT on Wednesday.

The launch was aired live by NASA HD TV. The full launch can be viewed below:

The crew was originally slated to launch on March 30, but problems with a pressure test forced a delay until a new Soyuz rocket could be brought into service. In the meantime ISS crew members Don Pettit, ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers and cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko have had the station to themselves since April 27.

The three new crew members will remain on Space Station until mid-September, serving as flight engineers under Expedition 31 commander Oleg Kononenko until July 1, when the current crew will depart and Padalka will assume command, marking the beginning of Expedition 32.

For more news on Expedition 31, visit NASA’s ISS website here. Also, you can follow NASA astronaut Joe Acaba on Twitter @AstroAcaba.

Members of the media photograph the Soyuz TMA-04M rocket launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Video credit: NASA TV. Images: NASA/Bill Ingalls