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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

Frequently Asked Questions About Astronaut-Acquired Photographs

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Questions about access to photographs:
How can I use the photographs in scientific research?
How does this data relate to other programs that NASA has for studying the Earth?
What will be the future of astronaut photography on the International Space Station?
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How can I use the photographs in scientific research?
The photographs have a great deal of information value "as-is" because they provide a broad geographic perspective on climate, geology, ecology, oceanography and other disciplines. In addition these photographs provide the longest possible time series of information documenting changes in the Earth.

The photographs also contain information that can be extracted using the methods of the field of Remote Sensing. In general, a photograph is digitally scanned at high resolution. Using information from maps or known locations of objects on the photo, a GIS or image analysis program is used to georeference the photograph and correct distortions due to oblique look angles. The resulting 3-band image can be analyzed in ways similar to methods used with remotely sensed data from robotic satellites such as Landsat or SPOT.

How does this data relate to other programs that NASA has for studying the Earth?
NASA has many programs that collect information about the Earth. A number of links to earth science related government sites are in the "links" section of our homepage.

The most widely known NASA program for study of Earth is the Earth Science Enterprise (formerly Mission to Planet Earth), centered at Goddard Space Flight Center. The Earth Science Enterprise is responsible for robotic satellites conducting long-term global observations of the land surface, biosphere, solid Earth, atmosphere, and oceans. The EROS Data Center of the USGS serves as a clearinghouse for satellite data including Landsat. Scientists using data from robotic satellites also make use of astronaut photographs. Similarly, some scientists have combined both data sources as they study various aspects of the environment.

Several Space Shuttle missions have flown specialized radar remote sensing equipment. During these missions, astronauts took a large number of photographs to complement the radar data. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, conducts research on radar remote sensing of the Earth's surface, and provides information, data, and images through the Imaging Radar website. Imaging radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) flew on Shuttle missions STS-59 in April 1994 and STS-68 in October 1994.

EarthKam (formerly known as KidSat) is a NASA educational program that involves students around the country in selecting locations to be photographed from the Space Shuttle. After studying many aspects of the Earth, students transmit a signal to the Shuttle that controls an automated electronic still camera, and the resulting photograph is returned electronically to the Earth. EarthKam images supplement the film images photographed by astronauts during the mission, and are available on the EarthKam website. It was part of Shuttle missions STS-76 in March 1996, STS-81 in January 1997, STS-86 in September/October 1997, and STS-89 in January 1998.

What will be the future of astronaut photography on the International Space Station?
The International Space Station (ISS) will continue the NASA tradition of Earth observation from spacecraft. Earth observation documented with hand-held cameras will begin even before assembly is complete. The ISS will be well-suited for observing most of the coastlines and heavily populated areas of the world--its average altitude will be 220 nautical miles (407 km) above the earth with an orbital inclination of 51.6 degrees. The U.S. Laboratory module will have a facility with an "optical quality" window (the WORF) that will be nadir-viewing most of the time. The window will be suitable for hand-held photography, electronic imaging and scanning multispectral sensors.