Crew Earth Observations

In Crew Earth Observations (CEO), crew members on the International Space Station (ISS) photograph the Earth from their unique point of view in low Earth orbit. Photographs record how the planet is changing over time, from human-caused changes like urban growth and reservoir construction, to natural dynamic events such as hurricanes, floods and volcanic eruptions. A major emphasis of CEO is to monitor disaster response events in support of the International Disaster Charter (IDC). CEO imagery provides researchers on Earth with key data to understand the planet from the perspective of the ISS. Crew members have been photographing Earth from space since the early Mercury missions beginning in 1961. The continuous images taken from the ISS ensure this record remains unbroken.

Astronauts have used hand-held cameras to photograph the Earth for more than 40 years. Beginning with the Mercury missions in the early 1960s, astronauts have taken more than 1.5 million photographs of the Earth. Today, the International Space Station (ISS) continues the NASA tradition of Earth observation from human-tended spacecraft. Operational since November 2000, the ISS is well suited for documenting Earth features. The ISS maintains an altitude between 220 - 286 miles (354 - 460 km) above the Earth, and an orbital inclination of 51.6˚, providing an excellent stage for observing most populated areas of the world.

Our team, a mixture of education and earth science specialists, works with the crew on board the International Space Station on a daily basis to acquire the beautiful astronaut photography seen on this website and all over the media. Astronauts are trained in scientific observation of geological, oceanographic, environmental and meteorological phenomena, and in the use of photographic equipment and techniques. Scientists on the ground select and periodically update a series of areas to be photographed as part of the Crew Earth Observations science payload. Messages are routinely sent to the station crew members listing the best opportunities for photographing target site areas. The sites include major deltas in South and East Asia, coral reefs, major cities, smog over industrial regions, areas that typically experience floods or droughts triggered by El Nino cycles, alpine glaciers, long-term ecological research sites, tectonic structures, and features on Earth, such as impact craters, that are analogous to structures on Mars.

To view the Earth Observations Minibook, visit our Minibook PDF (Requires a PDF reader such as the one here.)
For more information about Crew Earth Observations, visit the ISS Mission Page for Crew Earth Observations.
For a list of publications on astronaut photography of the Earth, visit our Scientific Publications page.