Tuesday, May 14, 2013

I Feel Like I've Been Looking Down at Our Fragile Oasis for the Past 5 Months

Back in December 2012, a trio of astronauts and cosmonauts launched from Kazakhstan bound for the International Space Station. They promised shots of our Earth from the vantage point of 250 miles above our heads. They didn't disappoint!

"The Moon, newly risen, perfect over a flowing blanket of cloud" Credit: Chris Hadfield
Since arriving at the orbiting outpost almost five months ago, Canadian Space Agency Astronaut and Expedition 35 Commander Chris Hadfield, and Expedition 34/35 Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn of NASA, have sent social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ into a frenzy, by posting around a dozen photos each day of completely random places scattered across on Earth. One minute Marshburn might post a picture of  Mount Etna in Italy puffing out smoke and gas from its vent, and a couple minutes later Hadfield might give us all a look at what Niagara Falls looks like from the space station.

For me, I have never felt so up to date and involved in what is being done on station. Every morning before I went to school, the first thing I would do would be to check Commander Hadfield's Twitter feed and get a small digest of what work would be conducted for the day on the orbiting laboratory- all summed up in 140 characters. Marvelous! What more could you want when you're rushing out the door!

I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way. I mean when these photos make national headlines all over the world you know that there's something special going on. It has allowed people to imagine they are inside the International Space Station, looking down at our fragile oasis and have that unique orbital perspective of our blue planet. 

"Leaving is bittersweet. It's been an unbelievable ride. Can't wait to see what's next!". credit: Tom Marshburn/NASA
Personally, I have had people who have no or very little interest or knowledge about what is being done on the ISS, coming up to me asking did I see the photo Tom Marshburn took of airplane contrails over Cork the previous day. That's pretty cool for me. It shows no matter how much you know or care about the manned space programme, you can still be stunned and encapsulated by these beautiful images beamed down from the guys. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if some time in the future they renamed Flight Engineer to "Social Media Specialist" as an additional role for the astronauts at the rate it's going!

On a serious note, I think we all need to remember what an amazing achievement Expedition 35 really was scientifically. It's not like the guys have just been taking pictures since the moment they got up there. The departing crew set a record for the amount of experiments studied and completed in the entire 13 year history of the ISS-

 "On a science side.. we set a record for utilisation, for the amount of time that was spent and the amount of research done during our tenure here aboard Expedition 35" said Hadfield as he handed over command of the International Space Station to Expedition 36 Commander Pavel Vinogradov.

However, the hard work didn't not stop there. With a little under 4 days until Hadfield, Marshburn and fellow crew member Roman Romanenko were to return to Earth, an ammonia leak was spotted in the station's P6 Truss, prompting an emergency spacewalk. With just 48 hours notice, the spacewalk by Marshburn and Expedition 35/36 Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy could not have gone any better, with initial reports indicating the leak had been fixed and there was no more leaking.

"For me it all really came together in the last 3 days... For me this is just the personification of what the International Space Station is, and what the people mean to it".
Spaceflight finale: "To some this may look like a sunset. But it's a new dawn". credit: Chris Hadfield/CSA
-Chris Hadfield

As the crew prepared to close the hatch between the ISS and the Soyuz, in typical Chris Hadfield style, the commander reflected on the future as he posted his last photo from space.

"To some this may look like a sunset. But it's a new dawn"
-Chris Hadfield

Never before have us Earthlings been able to see and hear what it must be like to live aboard the International Space Station for nearly six months. We have been able to hear what it sounds like to run on the space station treadmill, float around from module to module inside this orbiting vessel, and what it sounds like when a Soyuz spacecraft docks, bringing three new crewmates to the station. We have never seen the crew answer questions from people all over the world quite like this, and I think they should be commended for this.

Keeping people up to date and sharing magnificent views is what makes people interested in space travel at the end of the day, and gives them that humble reminder with every photo that we all share this beautiful planet, and that we need to take care of it.