There’s an oft-used idiom that you can’t see political borders from space, but we’ve known for a while it’s no longer true. Between higher resolution cameras and the increase in human activity, there have been several examples of borders visible from space. Here’s one more.
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station took this photograph in November of 2014 of a 20-kilometer (12-mile) stretch of the Iraq-Iran border, near the coast of the Persian Gulf. Clearly visible is the border between the two countries, along with signs of fortification: circular gun emplacements, systems of large curved earthworks and straight connecting roads that run parallel to the border.
NASA said the ISS team that analyzes astronaut photos first thought the circular features to be oil-pad installations (like ones seen in Texas here). But they said the “strategic location of these formations along the international boundary made it easier to see these as patterns of military fortifications. This region of oil refining and exporting was the center of numerous military actions during the war in the 1980s, especially during the defense of the southern city of Basra.”
Back in 2011, we featured an image from astronaut Ron Garan which clearly showed the human-made border between India and Pakistan. Since 2003, India has illuminated the border with Pakistan by floodlights in attempt to prevent ammunition trafficking and the infiltration of terrorists.
“Realizing what this picture depicted had a big impact on me,” Garan said. “When viewed from space, Earth almost always looks beautiful and peaceful. However, this picture is an example of man-made changes to the landscape in response to a threat, clearly visible from space. This was a big surprise to me.”
There’s also a satellite photo from the M-Sat Planet Observer showing the clear border and demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
We’ve seen lots of timelapse videos lately from the International Space Station, as the astronauts have just recently started shooting long sequences of images enabling the creation of these stunning videos made from still photos. This video was put together by one of the photographers himself — Ron Garan — who returned home on September 16, 2011 after spending about six months in space. Today on his blog, Fragile Oasis, Garan explained how the genesis of time-lapse photography on the ISS came from a suggestion from Katrina Willoughby, a photography instructor for the astronauts.
“I hadn’t tried time-lapse yet because I overestimated how hard it would be to capture great images, and the time-lapse photography I had seen to date didn’t seem as impressive as the still imagery we had been taking with some of the new equipment onboard,” Garan said.
But he set up a Nikon D3S camera in the Cupola on the space station (see an awesome picture of him, below, working in the Cupola), took some practice shots, and worked on getting the right settings, then set up the camera to take about 500 pictures at 3-second intervals.
“When I saw the results, I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep!” Garan said, adding that these videos really do give a great representation of what the view is like from space.
Following Garan’s lead, the other astronauts have since joined in taking time-lapse imager, and astronaut Mike Fossum has “since elevated time-lapse photography from space to an art form,” Garan said.
This has become my new favorite space photo! Look closely into the windows of the Cupola on the International Space Station: That’s astronaut Ron Garan, on September 16, 2011, his last day on board the space station. “That’s me in the cupola of the International Space Station off the coast of Australia taking my last of over 25,000 pics that I still want to share with everyone,” Garan wrote on his Google+ page. Not only are the colors and view spectacular, but this has got to be one of the best destination photos ever — not to mention a priceless keepsake and memento for Garan from his expedition on the ISS.
You can see some of the thousands of images Garan took from space on his Twitpic page.
There is an oft-repeated and perhaps beautiful saying that you can’t see political borders from space. Well, it turns out that saying isn’t true; not anymore. ISS astronaut Ron Garan took this image recently which clearly shows the border between India and Pakistan. Since 2003, India has illuminated the border with Pakistan by floodlights in attempt to prevent ammunition trafficking and the infiltration of terrorists.
“Since the beginning of human spaceflight fifty years ago, astronauts have reflected on how peaceful, beautiful, and fragile the Earth looks from space,” Garan wrote on his Fragile Oasis blog. “These reflections are not clichés that astronauts say because it feels good. It is truly moving to look at the Earth from space.”
But seeing this clearly visible political border was sobering for Garan and his crewmates.
“Realizing what this picture depicted had a big impact on me,” he said. “When viewed from space, Earth almost always looks beautiful and peaceful. However, this picture is an example of man-made changes to the landscape in response to a threat, clearly visible from space. This was a big surprise to me.”
Garan added, however, that the point here is not that we can look down at the Earth and see a man-made border between India and Pakistan. “The point is that we can look down at that same area and feel empathy for the struggles that all people face,” he said. “We can look down and realize that we are all riding through the Universe together on this spaceship we call Earth, that we are all interconnected, that we are all in this together, that we are all family.”
Garan said he believes our world is a place where possibilities are limited only by our imagination and our will to act. “It is within our power to eliminate the suffering and poverty that exist on our planet,” he said.
The International Space Station has had a continual human presence for nearly 11 years, and so the astronauts now aboard the ISS are holding out hope that they won’t have to break that streak and turn out the lights and close all the hatches when they leave. Ron Garan and Mike Fossum said in a news conference with reporters on Tuesday that they have not yet been training for the possibility that they will have to leave the ISS unmanned due to a problem with the Soyuz rocket, the only ride astronauts and cosmonauts currently have to space.
“It’s too early for us to get too worried about that, frankly,” said Fossum, “and we haven’t started to do anything specific up here,except for documenting things we do on video. Fossum added that teams in mission control in Houston and Moscow are figuring out the procedures of what needs to be done if a problem with the Soyuz rockets can’t be figured out by November. “It will take us a few weeks to finish that up, but we have another nine or so weeks here, my crew of three. So we’ve got plenty of time for those kinds of things.”
Fossum said the ground crews are in the preliminary stages of deciding everything, “from what ventilation we’re going to leave running, what lights we’re going to leave on, what condition each particular experiment will be on, every tank, every valve, every hatch.”
A Russian rocket carrying a Progress resupply ship failed just after the third stage ignition two weeks ago and crashed into Siberia. While the Progress cargo ships launch on a Soyuz-U rocket and the Soyuz crew capsules — the Soyuz TMA — launches on a Soyuz-FG, the third stages of the two rockets are virtually identical.
Russian engineers said last week a malfunction in the third stage engine’s gas generator occurred; now they need to find out why and launch a couple of unmanned rockets before putting humans on board.
Right now a crew of six is on the station, with three of them scheduled to depart late next week – a week later than originally planned — to keep the station fully staffed as long as possible. A new crew of three was supposed arrive later this month, but that flight is on hold at least until early November, depending on the outcome of the investigation by the Russian engineers.
Since the space shuttles are no longer flying, the Soyuz is the only ride in town. While SpaceX is scheduled to send an unmanned Dragon capsule in a test run for bringing cargo to the station, the station would have to be abandoned if the Soyuz rocket isn’t cleared by November.
“It’s a complicated thing, when a rocket shuts down. It is a big deal,” said Fossum. “We’re not part of that investigation but we know what is going on. It’s not a fundamental design flaw, as this rocket has had hundreds of successful fights. But they are looking for what has changed.”
So, ground teams are now looking ahead for all the possible “what ifs” that might occur and Fossum and Garan said the big problem would be a short time span to do a crew handover – training in the new crew – or if they have to leave the station unmanned. They’ve started videotaping procedures and intricacies they’ve discovered about the station, just in case they aren’t there when a new crew arrives.
But it’s been a source of pride that there have been crews up here for over 4,000 days straight. “I think it is important,” said Fossum, “the station requires some care and feeding, and it is important for us to be here if we possibly can. If we have to shut it down for awhile, we will do our best to leave it in the best possible condition for the next crew to open the doors and turn the lights and and get back to work.”
The astronauts said if they do have to leave the station unmanned for a short period, it shouldn’t be a problem, but if the short gap turns into months, “the probability starts to stack up against you and leads to possibility that you would have a problem that could be significant without anyone up here to take action,” said Fossum.
Meanwhile, science operations are going full speed ahead. “We’re breaking records every week with crew-based research, over and above the autonomous research,” Garan said. “It’s important to note, that in the event we have to leave, there will still be science operations on board.”
What does the International Space Station crew think about the situation they face since the Progress cargo ship mishap? Astronaut Ron Garan wanted to do something light-hearted to let everyone know that “we are all in this together,” so he and his crewmates created a video. Garan said “Despite the seriousness of the possibilities, and while we are all in this period of uncertainty, it doesn’t mean we can’t still have a little fun.”
This video also provides an impromptu tour of the ISS and shows how big the space station is, as it takes fellow astronaut Mike Fossum a long time to find Garan.
It should be noted that they made this video before they got the news of the potential of having the ISS unmanned. “This would have serious implications, and we all hope that it does not come to that,” Garan wrote on his Fragil Oasis blog. You can read Garan’s entire commentary about the video at that link, and take a look around at his other postings, as well. Garan is doing a great job of sharing his experiences in space.
Ah, the Moon! Earth’s constant companion and the subject of songs, poetry, and many an astrophoto here on Universe Today. But we always gaze upon the Moon under the cover of Earth’s atmosphere. Does it look any different from up above the world so high? Astronauts from the ISS have taken plenty of pictures of the Moon, and here are a couple recent and notable lunar images. The one above is of a crescent Moon taken in March of this year (2011) — notice the bright crescent sliver present even while the entire moon is visible. Here, the Moon looks teeny tiny. Below is another view of a bigger, but still crescent Moon as seen from the ISS.
Expedition 28 astronaut Ron Garan took this image just a few days ago on July 31, 2011 from the International Space Station. This is such a stunning image, it was featured on NASA’s Image of the Day Gallery. Garan noted the view saying, “We had simultaneous sunsets and moonsets.” For anyone in orbit, this extraordinary event is a daily occurrence. Since the station orbits the Earth every 90 minutes, each day the crew experiences such a view about 16 times a day.
Taken by NASA astronaut and Expedition 27 flight engineer Ron Garan, this image shows the Petermann Ice Island (PII-A) currently adrift off the coast of Labrador. The island is a chunk of ice that broke off the Petermann Glacier in Greenland in August of 2010 and has been moving slowly southward ever since. It is currently about 21 square miles (55 square km) in size – nearly the same area as Manhattan!
Garan’s original photo was posted to his Twitter feed earlier today… I cropped the full-size version, rotated it so that south is down and edited it to bring out surface details in the island. Ridges in its surface can be seen as well as many bright blue meltwater ponds.
Overlaid on the left side is an approximate scale size of Manhattan. This thing is BIG!
PII-A is currently drifting toward Newfoundland but is unlikely to reach land… its base will run against the sea floor long before that. But it has been reported to be posing a problem for ships and offshore oil rigs. (Read more about PII-A on NASA’s Earth Observatory site here.)
When he’s not performing other duties aboard the Space Station, Ron Garan posts photos of Earth from orbit on his Twitter feed (@Astro_Ron) and also on his website FragileOasis.org, thereby sharing his unique and privileged perspective on our world. Founded by Garan, Fragile Oasis is a site that supports and publicizes many global projects supporting humanitarian and environmental missions. Visit, become a member, and you too can “learn, act, and make a difference.” After all, who better than an astronaut would know how much our world is connected, and how fragile it really is!
Image credit: NASA / Ron Garan. Edited by Jason Major.
PS: If you want an idea of how something like this would look like up close, check out this video below taken from a ship near one of the smaller pieces of the ice island!
Jason Major is a graphic designer, photo enthusiast and space blogger. Visit his website Lights in the Dark and follow him on Twitter @JPMajor or on Facebook for the most up-to-date astronomy awesomeness!
What is it really like to live in space? ISS astronaut Ron Garan has been steadily communicating his experiences on board the space station since he arrived in April, with his Fragile Oasis blog, his Twitter feed and Twitpic account. Now he’s started a videoblog, to visually and verbally share even more of what it is like to live on the ISS for a long duration mission. His accompanying blog post also includes a transcript and some of the images he talks about.
The debate on why humans should or should not return to the Moon has been ongoing for years. Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear astronautRon Garan speak eloquently on a subject he is passionate about, water sustainability on planet Earth. Subsequently, I read an essay Garan wrote about the importance of returning to the Moon. Although Garan originally wrote this essay before the cancellation of the Constellation program was announced, he has amended his thoughts to reflect the likelihood that the US won’t be returning to the Moon anytime soon. With Garan’s permission, we are re-publishing his essay in its entirety.
The Importance of Returning to the Moon
(The 8th Continent)
By Ron Garan
On May 10th, 1869, a golden spike joined two railways at Promontory Point, Utah, and the first transcontinental railroad was completed. On January 14th, 2004, a new vision for our Nation’s space exploration program was announced that committed the United States to a long-term human program to explore the solar system starting with a return to the moon. On February 1st 2010, those plans to return to the moon were put on hold. Although our Nation has decided to postpone a return to the moon it is still important to acknowledge the moon’s relevance to life on Earth.
There is no doubt that the railroad changed the world. It opened up frontiers to discovery, settlement, and commerce. The railroad was the backbone for the industrial revolution that provided the largest increase in life expectancy and improvement in quality of life in history. Just as the industrial revolution brought about unprecedented improvements in quality of life so can a new age of space exploration and development, but this time with a positive impact on the environment. To begin a period of sustainable space exploration, both the public and private sectors of our Nation must seize the opportunity and continue on a path to the moon.
Since the Vision for Space Exploration was announced in 2004, there has been an on-going debate about the importance of taking the next step in space exploration, a return to the moon. The reasons for making this the next step include: fulfilling a compelling human need to explore; gaining a foothold on the moon to prepare for journeys to other worlds; easing the world’s energy problems; protecting the planet from disasters; creating moon-based commercial enterprises that will improve life on Earth, conducting scientific research; inspiring young people toward higher education, and utilizing space resources to help spread prosperity throughout the world.
We should not return to the moon for any one of these reasons, but for all of them and more. By first establishing the basic infrastructure for a transportation system between the Earth and the moon and a sustainable, semi-autonomous, permanent human settlement, we will open the door to significant benefits for all. Of course, any permanent lunar base must be economically and politically sustainable and therefore must provide tangible benefits and a return on investment.
Exploration: Great nations accomplish extraordinary endeavors that help to maintain their leadership in the world. America’s history is built on a desire to open new frontiers and to seek new discoveries. NASA’s vision for space exploration acknowledges that, “Mankind is drawn to the heavens for the same reason we were once drawn into unknown lands and across the open sea. We choose to explore space because doing so improves our lives and lifts our national spirit.”
Establishing a lunar infrastructure will challenge us to improve the reliability of space transportation and allow us to demonstrate exploration systems and concepts without leaving the relative safety of near-Earth space. Testing systems and concepts at a location that’s a three-day journey from Earth is a logical step before we make the leap of a six-month journey to Mars. Establishing a permanently occupied lunar base also will open the way to detailed study and use of lunar resources, which likely are significantly more economical than lifting all required exploration resources from the Earth’s surface.
Energy: Today, about 1.6 billion people on the Earth don’t have access to electricity. The World Bank estimates that 1.1 billion people live in extreme poverty which leads to 8 million premature deaths every year. In developed countries, higher quality of life is achieved only through a high rate of energy use. Increased energy supply is needed for economic and social development, improved quality of life, and to grow enough food to provide for the citizens of the developing world.
Unless something is done soon, the world will be faced with a crisis of enormous proportions. The United Nations estimates that world population will be approximately 9.1 billion by 2050 with virtually all growth in the 50 poorest countries. The choices that the global society makes to provide for future energy needs will have a profound effect on humanity and the environment.
The moon can supplement Earth-based renewable energy systems to meet future energy demand. Ample energy from the Sun reaches the moon and is not interrupted by weather, pollution or volcanic ash. Solar energy farms on the moon can “beam” limitless clean energy down to where it is needed on Earth or to satellites for relay to the Earth. There are also other potential sources of energy including platinum for fuel cells and an isotope called helium-3, which could be used in fusion reactors of the future.
Supplying energy from the moon will enable us to help provide the Earth’s energy needs without destroying our environment.
Protect the Planet from Disasters: There is a real risk to the Earth’s inhabitants from asteroid impacts and super-volcano eruptions. If a large object the size of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 that recently slammed into Jupiter were to hit the Earth, civilization could be destroyed. Much smaller asteroids could cause tremendous damage and loss of life. The moon is a superb location for early detection systems.
A super-volcano eruption is a geologic event of enormous explosive power to affect the global climate for years. Scientists estimate the last such eruption happened 74,000 years ago, and was 10,000 times more powerful than Mount St. Helens. Tremendous amounts of rock and ash were ejected into the air causing a six year long volcanic winter and a 1,000-year instant Ice Age, massive deforestation, disastrous famine, and near extinction of humankind. Scientists estimate that such a super-eruption will occur about once every 100,000 years.
The systems and technology that will be developed for life and work on the moon can be used to develop habitats and systems that could preserve Earth’s inhabitants in the event of a devastating eruption. These systems will also improve our ability to live in extreme environments and can be used to learn how to overcome limited resources and other environmental issues.
Moon-Based Commercial Enterprises: When the early pioneers headed west and expanded our Nation, they did not carry everything with them that they would need for their journey. They “lived off the land” and we will also need to use those resources available to us along our journey, starting with the moon.
There are numerous moon-based commercial activities that could significantly offset the cost of a moon base. Just a few of these are lunar refueling or servicing stations for satellites, lunar mining and space tourism. These commercial activities would allow us to return national treasures from space and provide a significant return on our space investment.
Scientific research: The moon offers an incredible opportunity to further human understanding and discovery. Since the moon’s ancient surface is relatively undisturbed, study of its geology can help us better understand the geological history of Earth. Further, the moon’s vacuum environment can’t be duplicated on the Earth or in low-Earth orbit, and could lead to new materials, advanced alloys, medicines and innovative ways to deal with limited resources on Earth. Radio telescopes on the far side of the moon would be shielded from all radio signals (noise pollution) from Earth, allowing tremendous sensitivity increases and telescopes pointed at the Earth could identify and predict weather and climate changes.
If we return to the moon just for science and exploration then activities will be limited by the amount of money our nation is willing to devote. But, if we establish a sustainable, economically viable lunar base then our science and exploration will be limited only by our imagination.
Education: Our children are our best investment for the future, and our space program is a tremendous motivator. Our Nation has seen a steady decline in the number of students studying math and science. The space program can help turn this trend around. I can personally attest to the ability of the space program to encourage students based on the fact that I enrolled in math and science courses and began the pursuit of an engineering degree the day after the first space shuttle mission landed. The creation of a permanent lunar base will inspire millions of young people toward higher education and help maintain our Nation’s technological leadership.
Resources and Other Benefits: Since we live in a world of finite resources and the global population continues to grow, at some point the human race must utilize resources from space in order to survive. We are already constrained by our limited resources, and the decisions we make today will have a profound affect on the future of humanity.
Using resources and energy from space will enable continued growth and the spread of prosperity to the developing world without destroying our planet. Our minimal investment in space exploration (less than 1 percent of the U.S. budget) reaps tremendous intangible benefits in almost every aspect of society, from technology development to high-tech jobs. When we reach the point of sustainable space operations we will be able to transform the world from a place where nations quarrel over scarce resources to one where the basic needs of all people are met and we unite in the common adventure of exploration. The first step is a sustainable permanent human lunar settlement.
How should we go about this important undertaking? A good analogy to look at is the U.S. railroad system. The greatest obstacle for the first railroad developers was financial risk. Purchasing right of way, paying wages for large workforces and buying materials and equipment were prohibitively expensive. But the federal government stepped in, orchestrating massive land grants and other incentives. Once initial government investment was assured, enterprising developers invested enormous sums to bridge vast valleys and tunnel through enormous mountains.
Today we are faced with similar obstacles in the development and use of space for the benefit of humanity. Potential space developers face enormous up-front costs for high-risk, long-term returns on investment. To capitalize on the tremendous moon-based opportunities, our nation should establish the basic infrastructure for a transportation system between the Earth and the moon and a sustainable human settlement on the moon. Once this initial investment is made, commercial revenue-generating activities can be established. Just as our investment in the railroad, interstate road system, hydro-electric dams and other large federal projects have been paid back many times over by increased productivity and quality of life, so will our investment in lunar infrastructure.
We are poised on the doorstep of an incredible opportunity to benefit all of humanity. We have the technology and the ability to make this a reality — we need only the will to see it through. We need to choose a course toward the utilization of space to increase our available resources, global prosperity, quality of life, technological advancement, and environmental stewardship. Just as we look back and thank those before us for developing things most of us take for granted such as railroads and highways, the generations to come should be able to look back and thank us for committing to sustainable space exploration.