Space Shuttle Mission Report Series: Earth Observations during STS-066
November 3 - 14, 1994
Kamlesh Lulla, Cynthia Evans, M. Justin Wilkinson, Dave Amsbury, and Mary Fae McKay
Office of Earth Sciences
NASA/Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, U.S.A.

and the STS-066 Astronauts:
Donald R. McMonagle, Curtis Brown, Ellen Ochoa, Scott Parazynski, Joseph Tanner, and Jean-Francois Clervoy


The Astronaut Perspective
     STS-66, the 66th Space Shuttle mission and the 13th mission of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, was an excellent flight for Earth observations. We launched to a 57-degree inclination orbit and an altitude of 165 nautical miles. Twenty-four-hour-a-day operations enabled us to see as much of our world as possible from the Space Shuttle. The Earth observations ground team thoroughly trained us preflight in the applicable sciences and, techniques necessary to document our 31 designated sites. They also sent us additional sites of interest in the daily mail during the flight. This extensive preparation and real time mission support helped us prepare for the exceptional photo opportunities our flight trajectory provided. In total, we took over 6800 frames of Earth observation photography during our 11 days in space.

     Unfortunately, Earth observation was complicated by two factors peculiar to this flight. Cloud cover over some areas was more extensive than experienced crewmembers had noticed on previous flights. Though frequent solid overcast conditions over Great Britain and Europe were expected, we were surprised at the extent of cloud cover over the oceans and North and South America in particular. In addition, during the last few days of the flight, our orbit ran along the terminator with a low sun angle a great deal of the time. This made good camera exposures very difficult. These two factors didn't diminish our enthusiasm to take the best Earth observation photography we could.

     We carried a full complement of cameras to record the expected spectacular views. One Hasselblad body with a 250-mm lens was dedicated to infrared film and yielded some striking photography of regional land use. The other two Hasselblad bodies using 40-, 100-, and 250-mm lenses were loaded with Lumiere ASA 100 color positive film. We changed lenses frequently for synoptic as well as detailed nadir views of our targeted sites. A Nikon F4 with a 300-mm lens and ASA 200 color negative film was used extensively with good success. In fact, perhaps the best picture ever taken of Mount Everest was taken with this camera/film combination. We took 1764 frames with a large-format Linhof camera and ASA 100 color negative film. These pictures are of exceptional quality and detail. We completed our Earth observation documentation with several passes of an Arriflex 16-mm movie camera mounted in the window to record the Earth as it passed by at five miles per second.

     Everyone on the crew actively participated in Earth observation photography. We used the predicted groundtracks and weather information given us by the ground team to prepare for passes over our selected sites. Paying particular attention to keep the camera lenses and orbiter windows clean and frequently checking our onboard computer for exposure settings, we were ready to take the pictures you are about to enjoy. Even with all this preparation, we were often surprised by the speed at which the ground passed beneath us. Quick response and accurate camera adjustments are a must. We all agreed that Earth observation photography was challenging and one of the more rewarding activities on our flight, changing forever the way in which we view our planet.

Mission Overview
     This mission of the Space Shuttle Atlantis was an important Earth observations mission. The main payloads included the Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science (ATLAS) and Cryogenic Infrared Spectrometers & Telescopes for the Atmosphere (Crista). In addition to these Earth science payloads, there were several microgravity experiments and medical test objectives. The mission launched at 57 degree inclination, comprised of 174 orbits around the Earth at the altitude of 164 nautical miles. The crew also took over 6800 photographs of the significant sites as a part of the Earth observation activities. The purpose of this mission report to highlight some of the notable Earth observation imagery acquired by the crew and to discuss some preliminary interpretations of these photographs. Figure 1 shows the crew portrait.

Figure 1     Figure 1: The STS-66 astronauts and Earth observers were, from left, front, Jean-Francois Clervoy (Mission Specialist), Curtis Brown (Pilot), and Donald R. McMonagle (Commander), and from left, back, Scott Parazynski (Mission Specialist), Joseph Tanner (Mission Specialist), and Ellen Ochoa (Payload Commander).

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