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The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth

(NASA Crew Earth Observations)

"We catch a glimpse of a huge swirl of clouds out the window over the middle of the Pacific Ocean, or the boot of Italy jutting down into the Mediterranean, or the brilliant blue coral reefs of the Caribbean strutting their beauty before the stars. And...we experienced those uniquely human qualities: awe, curiosity, wonder, joy, amazement." (Russell L. Schweickart, Apollo Astronaut ("The Home Planet")

Photographing the Earth from the International Space Station

Astronaut Photography - Observing Earth's Systems from Space

by Rebecca Dodge in collaboration with NASA scientists


Earth System Science focuses on the interconnections among processes taking place in the Earth's atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere. Many processes within the Earth System are being observed and monitored from Earth's orbit. NASA states that:

The mission of NASA's Earth Science Enterprise (ESE) is to develop a scientific understanding of the Earth system and its response to natural and human-induced changes to enable improved prediction of climate, weather, and natural hazards for present and future generations.

In support of this mission astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station have photograph the Earth on a continuous basis. The photographic record spans more than 35 years, comprising over 450,000 photographs. Our dynamic Earth is experiencing natural and human-induced changes and astronaut photographs provide high-resolution, time-sensitive coverage of changes that impact one or more of Earth's Systems.

This document is designed as an avenue to access astronaut photography resources, from an Earth System Science perspective. The Introduction demonstrates actual Earth Systems research supported by astronaut photography, with links to broader resources including research reports, news feature articles, and references, and to the astronaut photography archives themselves. Links from the Introduction also lead to separate units on specific Earth System -related topics, with examples of applications as well as content-based photographic selections. Links within the separate units leads to expanded collections of content-based photographs within the Astronaut Photography archives, and to reference articles that utilize Astronaut Photographs and other remote sensing imagery.

K -16 educators can use this document as a springboard for exploration into Earth System Science applications of astronaut photography. Teachers and students alike can initiate inquiry-based investigations on Earth Systems, exploring cited links and developing new connections during their research. With this goal in mind, questions are posed throughout the topical units, to encourage further exploration and research. Questions within the topical units are designed to facilitate inquiry through an Earth Systems focus.

Astronaut photography serves not only as a stand-alone resource for studying the Earth as a System, but also as independent data to be integrated with data from other resources including unmanned satellites and field observations. Both the Introduction and the topical units cross-reference other data sources and applications; questions within the topical units are designed to highlight the synergy between ground-based observations and space-based observations. The ability of astronauts to interact directly with ground-based observers studying dynamic events is a key advantage to human space-based observations.

San Mateo Foreword >>
Introduction >>
Crew Earth Observations >>
          Dynamic Events >>
          Coral Reefs >>
          El Nino >>
          Smog >>
          Volcanic Eruptions >>
          Deltas >>
          Urban Areas >>
          Glaciers >>
References >>