Spectacular Earth Timelapse Video: Christmas Gift from Alexander Gerst’s 2014 ISS Voyage

Video Caption: Watch the Earth roll by through the perspective of German astronaut Alexander Gerst in this 4K six-minute timelapse video of images taken from on board the International Space Station (ISS) during 2014. Credit: Alexander Gerst/ESA

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst from Germany who recently returned from a six month voyage to the International Space Station (ISS) has a special Christmas gift for all – a stunning six-minute timelapse compilation of his favorite images of Earth taken during his “Blue Dot” mission in 2014.

“A 4K timelapse showing our planet in motion, from my favourite Earth images taken during the Blue Dot mission,” wrote Gerst in connection with his spectacular timelapse video released to coincide with Christmastime.

“I wish all of you a merry Christmas! It was a wild year for me, thanks for joining me on this fascinating journey!” said Gerst in English.

“Wünsche euch allen fröhliche Weihnachten! War ein wildes Jahr für mich, vielen Dank, dass ihr mit dabei wart!” said Gerst in German.

You can watch the Earth roll by through Gerst’s perspective in this six-minute timelapse video combining over 12,500 images taken during his six-month mission aboard the ISS that shows the best our beautiful planet has to offer.

“Marvel at the auroras, sunrises, clouds, stars, oceans, the Milky Way, the International Space Station, lightning, cities at night, spacecraft and the thin band of atmosphere that protects us from space,” according to the video’s description.

Gerst would often would set cameras to automatically take pictures at regular intervals while doing his science research or preparing for the docking of other spacecraft at the ISS in order to get the timelapse effect shown in the video.

“Scary. The sunlight is far from reaching down the abyss of Neoguri's 65 km-wide eye.” Taken from the ISS on 8 July 2014. Credit: ESA/NASA/Alexander Gerst
“Scary. The sunlight is far from reaching down the abyss of Neoguri’s 65 km-wide eye.” Taken from the ISS on 8 July 2014. Credit: ESA/NASA/Alexander Gerst

The robotic arm capture and berthing of the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship and the release of the Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo freighter are particularly magnificent in a rarely seen timelapse glimpse of visiting vehicles that are absolutely essential to keeping the station afloat, stocked, and humming with research activities.

Gerst served aboard the ISS between May and November this year as a member of the Expedition 40 and 41 crews.

Gerst launched to the ISS on his rookie space flight on May 28, 2014, aboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-13M capsule along with Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev and NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman.

They joined the three station flyers already aboard – cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov & Oleg Artemyev, and astronaut Steve Swanson – to restore the station crew complement to six.

Gerst and Wiseman became well known and regarded for their prolific and expertly crafted photography skills.

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst, Russian commander Maxim Suraev and NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman returned to Earth on 10 November 2014, landing in the Kazakh steppe.  Credit: ESA–S. Corvaja
ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst, Russian commander Maxim Suraev, and NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman returned to Earth on 10 November 2014, landing in the Kazakh steppe. Credit: ESA–S. Corvaja

They returned to Earth safely on Nov. 10, 2014, with a soft landing on the Kazakh steppes.

Alex is Germany’s third astronaut to visit the ISS. He conducted a spacewalk with Wiseman on Oct. 7 while aboard. He is trained as a geophysicist and a volcanologist.

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst spent six hours and 13 minutes outside the International Space Station with NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman on Tuesday, 7 October 2014. This was the first spacewalk for both astronauts but they performed well in the weightlessness of orbit.  Credit: NASA/ESA
ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst spent six hours and 13 minutes outside the International Space Station with NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman on Tuesday, 7 October 2014. This was the first spacewalk for both astronauts but they performed well in the weightlessness of orbit. Credit: NASA/ESA

Read my story detailing Christmas 2014 festivities with the new crews at the ISS – here.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Incredible Snow-Dragging Spaceship Landing From The Space Station

Check out that landing mark! A Soyuz spacecraft carrying three people touched down safely in remote Kazakhstan late Sunday (EDT) and went for a brief sleigh ride in the snow, as you can see from the drag marks on the landscape.

The flawless landing included the Expedition 40/41 crew members of Reid Wiseman (NASA), Alexander Gerst (European Space Agency) and Maxim Suraev (Roscosmos), who spent 165 days in space, mainly living on the International Space Station. Check out some more landing pictures and video below.

Alexander Gerst, an astronaut from the European Space Agency, does a fist pump shortly after the safe Expedition 41 landing Nov. 9, 2014. Credit: ESA–S. Corvaja, 2014
Alexander Gerst, an astronaut from the European Space Agency, does a fist pump shortly after the safe Expedition 41 landing Nov. 9, 2014. Credit: ESA–S. Corvaja, 2014

Cygnus Cargo Carrier Concludes with Fiery Reentry Aug. 17 – Amazing Astronaut Photos

Cygnus reentry [17 Aug 2014]. In 84 days Reid, Max and I will ride home inside such an amazing fireball! Credit: NASA/ESA/Alexander Gerst
Story updated[/caption]

Farewell Cygnus!

The flight of the Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus commercial cargo carrier concluded this morning, Sunday Aug. 17, in a spectacular fireball as planned upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere at approximately 9:15 a.m. (EDT). And the fireworks were captured for posterity in a series of amazing photos taken by the Expedition 40 crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS). See astronaut photos above and below.

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst and Russian Cosmonaut Maxim Suraev documented the breakup and disintegration of Cygnus over the Pacific Ocean east of New Zealand today following precise thruster firings commanded earlier by Orbital Sciences mission control in Dulles, VA, that slowed the craft and sent it on a preplanned destructive reentry trajectory.

Cygnus reentry on 17 Aug 2014.  Credit: NASA/ESA/Alexander Gerst
Cygnus reentry on 17 Aug 2014. Credit: NASA/ESA/Alexander Gerst

Gerst was truly moved by the spectacle of what he saw as a portent for his voyage home inside a Soyuz capsule barely three months from now, with crew mates Maxim Suraev and NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman.

“In 84 days Reid, Max and I will ride home inside such an amazing fireball! In 84 Tagen werden Reid, Max & ich in solch einem Feuerball nach Hause fliegen!” – Gerst wrote from the station today in his social media accounts with the fireball photos.

Cygnus was loaded with no longer needed trash and fell harmlessly over an uninhabited area of the South Pacific Ocean.

Today’s spectacular reentry fireworks concluded the hugely successful flight of the Cygnus resupply ship named in honor of astronaut Janice Voss on the Orb-2 mission.

ISS Crewmate Max Suraev just caught this amazing photo of Cygnus Orb2 disintegrating on reentry.   Credit: Roscosmos/ Max Suraev via ISS crew mate Reid Wiseman
ISS Crew mate Max Suraev just caught this amazing photo of Cygnus Orb2 disintegrating on reentry. Credit: Roscosmos/ Max Suraev via ISS crew mate Reid Wiseman

The astronaut photos may be helpful to engineers planning the mechanics of the eventual deorbiting of the ISS at some point in the hopefully distant future.

Cygnus finished it’s month-long resupply mission two days ago when it was unberthed from the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday, Aug. 15, and station astronaut Alex Gerst released the vessel from the snares of the Canadarm2 robotic arm at 6:40 a.m. EDT.

“From start to finish, we are very pleased with the results of this mission. Our team is proud to be providing essential supplies to the ISS crew so they can carry out their vital work in space,” said Mr. Frank Culbertson, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Orbital’s Advanced Programs Group, in a statement.

Goodbye, Cygnus!  Credit: NASA/ESA/Alexander Gerst
Goodbye, Cygnus! Credit: NASA/ESA/Alexander Gerst

Cygnus roared to orbit during a spectacular blastoff on July 13 atop an Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rocket on the Orb-2 mission at 12:52 p.m. (EDT) from the beachside Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

It arrived at the station after a three day chase and was captured with the 58-foot (17-meter) long Canadian robotic arm on July 16, 2014 by Station Commander Steve Swanson working at a robotics workstation in the cupola.

Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft blasts off on July 13  2014 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility , VA, on the Orb-2 mission and loaded with over 3000 pounds of science experiments and supplies for the crew aboard the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft blasts off on July 13 2014 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility , VA, on the Orb-2 mission and loaded with over 3000 pounds of science experiments and supplies for the crew aboard the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Cygnus arrival at the ISS took place on the 45th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969 on America’s first manned moon landing mission by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.

The US/Italian built pressurized Cygnus cargo freighter delivered 1,657 kg (3653 lbs) of cargo to the ISS Expedition 40 crew including over 700 pounds (300 kg) of science experiments and instruments, crew supplies, food, water, computer equipment, spacewalk tools and student research experiments.

This mission dubbed Orbital-2, or Orb-2, marks the second of at least eight operational cargo resupply missions to the ISS under Orbital’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA.

Cygnus Orb-2 spacecraft ‘Janice Voss’ departed ISS at 6:40 a.m.  EDT, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014.  Credit: NASA TV
Cygnus Orb-2 spacecraft ‘Janice Voss’ departed ISS at 6:40 a.m. EDT, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. Credit: NASA TV

The next resupply launch of the private Cygnus Orb-3 craft atop the Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket is currently scheduled for October 2014 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA.

Orbital Sciences was awarded a $1.9 Billion supply contract by NASA to deliver 20,000 kilograms (44,000 pounds) of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and hardware for 8 flights to the ISS through 2016 under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) initiative.

“With three fully successful cargo delivery missions now complete, it is clear our public-private partnership with NASA is proving to be a positive asset to the productivity of the ISS. We are looking forward to the next Antares launch and the Cygnus cargo delivery mission that is coming up in about two months,” said Culbertson.

Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft prior to blast off on July 13  2014 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility , VA, on the Orb-2 mission bound for the International Space Station.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft prior to blast off on July 13 2014 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility , VA, on the Orb-2 mission bound for the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing ISS, Rosetta, OCO-2, GPM, Curiosity, Opportunity, Orion, SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital Sciences, MAVEN, MOM, Mars and more Earth & Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Launch Alert! Watch Live As Three People Rocket To Space Today

In a few hours, you’ll be able to watch three crew members of Expedition 40/41 rocket to space — live from Kazakhstan!

At 3:57 p.m. EDT (7:57 p.m. UTC) a rocket carrying a Soyuz spacecraft is expected to lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, carrying Reid Wiseman (NASA), Alexander Gerst (ESA) and Maxim Suraev (Roscosmos). Full schedule details are below.

NASA TV will turn on the cameras at 3 p.m. EDT (7 p.m. UTC) and stay on the crew until after they make it to orbit. If all goes to plan, NASA TV will then resume coverage at 9 p.m. EDT (1 p.m. UTC) for docking to the International Space Station 48 minutes later.

Next comes the hatch opening. NASA will start coverage at 11 p.m. EDT (3 a.m. UTC) for the opening about 25 minutes later. Greeting the arriving crew members will be the other half of the Expedition 40 crew: Steve Swanson (NASA), Alexander Skvortsov (Roscosmos) and Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos). The incoming crew traditionally participates in a televised chat with their families once they are a little settled in.

Because these are live events, all schedules are subject to change. Make sure to follow the NASA Twitter feed for any adjustments. For example, during the last launch the Soyuz spacecraft failed to make a burn to bring the crew members to the station quickly, making the crew go to a standard backup procedure that brought them to the station about two days later. No one was at risk, NASA said, and the delayed docking happened flawlessly.

By the way, all three crew members are on Twitter: @astro_alex, @astro_reid and @msuraev.

Why Trapping Somebody In Space Only Takes A Breeze (And Other Highlights From Expedition 40)

Imagine that you were in the middle of a module on the International Space Station. Floating in mid-air, far from handholds or any way to propel yourself. Is there any way to get out of that situation?

The short answer is not easily, and the longer answer is it could be an effective way to trap criminals in space, joked veteran cosmonaut Maxim Suraev in a press conference today (March 18) for the upcoming Expedition 40/41 mission, which also includes rookies Alex Gerst and Reid Wiseman.

Speaking in Russian, Suraev explained that during his last 2010 mission, he had crew members set him up in the middle of the station’s Node 3. “It is true that you can twist as much as a contortionist, but you won’t be able to move because you have nothing to bear against,” he said in remarks translated into English.

That said, the ventilation system on station does tend to push objects (and people) towards the vents after a time, he observed. What if you had multiple vents set up, however?

“I thought that if ever we have a permanent human habitation in space, this would be the best way to keep a person confined — like in a prison — in the middle of the room, where he or she could not move anywhere,” Suraev continued. “Being in limbo, as you will. The only thing that is required is a large room, a person and several fans blowing in different directions to keep the person in the middle of the room. That’s scary, trust me!”

NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman does spacewalk training in a partial gravity simulator ahead of his Expedition 40/41 flight in 2014. Credit: NASA
NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman does spacewalk training in a partial gravity simulator ahead of his Expedition 40/41 flight in 2014. Credit: NASA

There’s no fear on Suraev’s part that it will happen with his crewmates, however. “My new crew, they’re really good guys and I’m really looking forward to being with my new crew in space, and to spend five and a half months aboard the space station,” he said in an English phone interview after the press conference. (Good news given that Suraev will assume command of Expedition 41.)

The crew (who lifts off in May) will have an action-packed mission. It will include the arrival of the last Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and — if NASA fixes on a spacesuit leak allow — two American maintenance spacewalks. There also are 162 experiments to perform (this according to Gerst) and if there’s time, checking out our home planet.

“Earth observation was not one of the primary goals that [station] was designed for,” he cautioned in a phone interview, but he added that one of its strengths is there are people on board the orbiting laboratory that can fill in the gaps for other missions.

Gerst (who was a volcano researcher before becoming an astronaut) pointed out that if a volcano erupts, a typical Earth satellite would look straight down at it. Astronauts can swing around in the Cupola and get different views quickly, which could allow scientists to measure things such as the volcano plume height.

Another example of flexibility: The Expedition 39 crew right now is (news reports say) helping out with the search for the missing Malaysian Airline Flight 370.

“We’re really good at capturing things quickly and then sending the  pictures down to the ground,” Gerst said.

Wiseman, as one of the rookies on mission, says he is interested in comparing the experience to his multi-month Navy missions at sea. It’s all a matter of mindset, he said in a phone interview. He once was assigned to a naval voyage that was expected to be at sea for six months. Then they were instructed it would be 10 months, leading to fistfights and other problems on board, he recalled.

Russian cosmonaut Maxim Surayev during a spacewalk in January 2010 for Expedition 22. Credit: NASA
Russian cosmonaut Maxim Surayev during a spacewalk in January 2010 for Expedition 22. Credit: NASA

Astronauts for the forthcoming one-year mission to station, he pointed out, will launch with different expectations than someone expecting about a six-month stay. “If you know you’re up there for one year, you’re going to pace yourself for one year,” he said.

But there still will be sacrifices, as Wiseman has two daughters (five years old and eight years old). He’s asking the older child to do a bit of social media, and the younger one to draw pictures that could be included in the “care packages” astronauts receive from Earth. “It’s going to be tough not to see them on a daily basis. They grow so fast,” he said.

Other things to watch for on this mission include the arrival of the station’s first 3-D printer, setup of an alloy furnace to make new materials in microgravity, and a potential Wiseman-led “come out and wave campaign” that would encourage families to go outside and tweet about the space station as they watch it.

You can follow Expedition 40/41’s continuing adventures at Universe Today as well as on social media: @astro_reid for Wiseman, and for Gerst, @astro_alex or his Facebook page.

The crew members of Expedition 40/41 pose in front of a Soyuz spacecraft simulator in Star City, Russia. From left, Alex Gerst (European Space Agency), Max Suraev (Roscosmos) and Reid Wiseman (NASA). Credit: NASA
The crew members of Expedition 40/41 pose in front of a Soyuz spacecraft simulator in Star City, Russia. From left, Alex Gerst (European Space Agency), Max Suraev (Roscosmos) and Reid Wiseman (NASA). Credit: NASA

 

Volunteer Firefighter Readies To Face Space Station’s Biggest Nemesis

Facing a fire in space? It’s among the most catastrophic situations possible, according to NASA, so the agency spends a lot of time thinking of what to do. Here’s what you do with NASA training: Don a mask, grab an emergency book, and head quickly but calmly to the nearest control post to plot an attack.

This is presumably what is happening in the recent picture above, where Alexander Gerst (from the European Space Agency, on the left) and NASA’s Reid Wiseman are doing a fire drill on the ground.

Astronauts practice emergency procedures so often that their first instinct is to go to the procedures, Gerst said in a previous Universe Today interview. “They sink in and become a memorized response or a natural reaction,” he said in August. And in his case, Gerst has training from a previous career that would come in handy if a fire broke out on the International Space Station.

Gerst was a volunteer firefighter when he was attending school, and although Expedition 40/41 this year will be his first spaceflight, he’s well-used to extreme environments: he also has done science in Antarctica, where researchers are essentially responsible for themselves for months at a time.

NASA strives to make the fire training as real as possible to keep astronauts on their toes, including creative combinations of smoke machines. Gerst said the agency won’t go to extremes, however: “We don’t light our modules on fire,” he said.

Check out more about emergency training in this past Universe Today article, which also explains the difference between fighting a fire on the space station and dealing with one in a Soyuz spacecraft. Gerst and Reid (both rookie astronauts) and Russian astronaut Maxim Suraev (who was on Expeditions 21 and 22) are supposed to head into space in May.