Awesome Photo: Aurora, Airglow, City Lights and Shining Stars

Photo taken by ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano on Sept. 5, 2013 (ESA/NASA)

Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano shares a lot of fantastic photos taken from his privileged position 260 miles up aboard the Space Station, orbiting the planet 16 times a day. This is his latest, a stunning view of nighttime city lights spread out beneath a glowing dome of ghostly airglow and shimmering aurorae, with a backdrop of brightly shining stars. The dark silhouette of a solar array is in the foreground at right.

And in case you were wondering, yes, astronauts certainly can see stars while in space. A lot of them, in fact. (Except up there, they don’t twinkle… but they’re no less beautiful!)

“Every time we look into the sky and we admire the same stars, we share the same experience with all those who still know how to dream.”

– Luca Parmitano

Luca Parmitano is the first of ESA’s new generation of astronauts to fly into space. The current mission, Volare, is ESA’s fifth long-duration Space Station mission. During his six-month-long stay aboard the ISS, Luca has been conducting research for ESA and international partners as well as taken many photographs of our planet, sharing them on Twitter, Flickr, and the Volare mission blog.

See this and more photos taken by Luca on the Volare Flickr page here.

Image credit: ESA/NASA

This Teenager Hosts Earth-To-Space Q&As With An Orbiting Astronaut

Abigail Harrison just prior to the launch of her mentor astronaut, Luca Parmitano, in Kazakhstan May 28, 2013. Credit: Abigail Harrison

Meet Abigail Harrison. This teenager’s enthusiasm about space so impressed Luca Parmitano — who just happens to be a European Space Agency astronaut on the space station right now — that the two have a social media collaboration going.

Abby collects questions from readers of her blog ( and sends them up to the station for Parmitano to read and respond to.

Parmitano’s first mission in space, which he calls Volare (“Fly”), has been a busy one. He’s driven a rover, practiced grappling techniques for the Cygnus spacecraft — which was delayed in its docking to Tuesday (now Saturday) — and experienced two spacewalks (one went to plan, and the other was cut short due to a spacesuit leak).

Meanwhile, Abby had a space-y summer of her own. She fundraised thousands of dollars to see Parmitano’s launch in May. Then she went to Space Camp and toured several NASA and international agency centers. We caught up with Abby to find out how things are going — and if this brings her any closer to her dream of going to space herself. Below is a slightly edited e-mail conversation about her adventures.

Universe Today: How’s it going with the partnership?

Abigail Harrison: Working with Luca has been a lot of fun! I have really enjoyed being able to e-mail with him on station and especially the opportunity I had to talk to him while visiting Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL at the end of July. The AstronautAbby community has been very active sharing images of the Space Station flying by for my #CatchLuca weekly blog post, and the #AskLuca questions submitted by my community have been great. It’s fun to hear how Luca answers these questions each week.

UT: What are the best things that you have been doing specifically to spread the message of Volare?

AH: I think my #CatchLuca blog series has been a real hit! So many people from around the world have taken photos of the ISS passing overhead and decided to submit them and share with the world. It’s been great! I think this helps to spread the message as it is people on Earth getting excited about the space station and sharing their own pictures. The more sharing that happens, the more aware people get about the mission and the more they learn.

Luca Parmitano, a European Space Agency astronaut, is on his first voyage to space as a part of Expeditions 36/37. Credit: NASA
Luca Parmitano, a European Space Agency astronaut, is on his first voyage to space as a part of Expeditions 36/37. Credit: NASA

The #AskLuca series has also been very successful. It’s true, anyone can jump on social media and ask a question of Luca or any astronaut and they most likely will answer it, but this series has allowed people who may not be socially savvy to ask questions, as well as people to ask longer questions. The fact that all the answers are published on my blog is also great as people can read it in a published article versus on a social media update.

UT: Tell us more about these NASA tours you’ve been doing lately. What is your goal in doing them?

AH: I have been fortunate to be in the right places at the right time. This summer I was in Houston for a gymnastics camp, and therefore I was able to tour the Johnson Space Center – but not just tour the center, I got to see the Neutral Buoyancy Lab and compare it to the Russian counterpart that I saw in May during my visit to Star City [astronaut training complex in Russia] when attending Luca’s launch. I also was able to go on the floor of Mission Control and see a specialized robotics lab, along with a lot of other cool things.

Abigail Harrison simulates repairing a satellite during Space Camp in Huntsville, AL. Credit: Abigail Harrison
Abigail Harrison simulates repairing a satellite during Space Camp in Huntsville, AL. Credit: Abigail Harrison


After Houston, I headed to Huntsville for Space Camp. While in Huntsville I was able to tour the Marshall Space Flight Center and specifically see some of the work NASA is doing along with ATK to build the Space Launch System, which is the rocket system that will take me to Mars someday (similar but much bigger than the Saturn V rockets that took Apollo to the moon).

Finally,  I visited Lockheed Martin’s facilities in Colorado to see the production of the Orion, which is the spacecraft currently being developed to go to Mars, the moon and asteroids. These visits have tremendous value as I have been able to share pictures, write about the visits and talk about what I have seen with people everywhere.

The goal is to learn about what is being done right now to realize the future American missions to Mars, the moon and asteroids and continue human space flight. The more I learn and understand about our current efforts to realize the future of human space exploration, the easier it is for me to talk about the future and educate the general public. Part of my mission is to help spread the word to people around the world about the future of human space flight and get the public excited for what we will do next.

Abigail Harrison with subscale test rocket motors during a visit to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. Credit: Abigail Harrison
Abigail Harrison with subscale test rocket motors during a visit to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. Credit: Abigail Harrison

UT: I’m sure you’ve been talking to Luca regularly. What do you talk about?

AH: We e-mail and tweet quite a bit. We have only talked once. To be honest, I follow his mission very closely through his online updates and ESA and NASA updates for my role as his Earth Liaison, and therefore I am up to date on what he is doing, probably more up to date than most people.

When we e-mail and talk it is usually about other things like advice on school, travel (he lives in Houston so gave me some good tips on what to see while visiting), and generally asking him how he is doing and what it is like to live and work on the ISS. It’s not that different from when he was training for his mission on Earth, except for now he is flying in space overhead and his e-mails and tweets come from space. 🙂

UT: Do you feel any closer to being in space as a result of this partnership?

AH: Yes, I do. How could I not? I would guess that anyone who personally knows an astronaut living on the ISS would feel closer to being in space. The personal connection means you are paying close attention to everything the astronaut is doing, and following the mission very closely.

The fact that I am sharing so much of what Luca is doing as part of my role as his Earth Liaison also helps me feel closer to being in space, because I am sharing with so many people and they in turn offer me support everyday towards my goals. I watch Luca and can imagine the day when it’s my turn to go into space. It’s been an incredible experience to get to be part of his mission.