Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Return of the Coolest Picture Ever

It's been a while since I posted a "Coolest Picture Ever," but this one certainly qualifies. With the Space Shuttle program winding down (just one flight left), NASA seems to be taking every opportunity to capture spectacular beauty shots they never had time for before. If they'd released photos this sexy 25 years ago, we might have ourselves a real space program today.

There are a couple of interesting things happening in this picture. It's a fairly long time exposure taken while Endeavour was on the night side of the planet. The shuttle is illuminated by lights shining from within its own bay (and maybe some light from the International Space Station or backglow from the Earth itself?) while it zips over city lights a few hundred miles below. NASA astronauts don't take a lot of pictures at night for the same reason you and I don't: it's dark! But wow. What a beauty.

I've got to mention the stars. Most photos taken in space don't show any, which is one of the points of "evidence" cited by the Moon hoaxers who don't believe Apollo really went anywhere (as if NASA would've spent billions faking the Moon landings but forgotten to hang up a black curtain studded with Christmas lights). Those pictures don't show stars for, again, the same reason your nighttime snapshots don't. The camera exposure time is too short. Taking a photo of a white-suited Moonwalker or white-tiled spacecraft in direct sunlight requires about the same shutter speed and f-stop as shooting them on a sunny afternoon in the Mojave Desert would. Stars are thousands of times fainter and you've got to leave the shutter open a long time for anything to show up, meaning you have to hold very still--quite difficult on a spacecraft orbiting at 17,000 mph (in fact, if you zoom in on the high-resolution version of this shot on the NASA website, you can see the stars streaking just a little bit).

Thanks for your service, Endeavour. Maybe someday I'll get down to L.A. and visit you at the California Science Center. But it won't be the same.



Jim O'Kane said...

Why, in the decade-long history of the ISS, did no nation ever build a bicycle-sized robot scout ship, equipped with gyros and simple peroxide thrusters that could carry a box of cameras to a station-keeping point, say, a mile from the ISS?

NASA is great at everything but publicity. They misunderstood the reason for going to the Moon, thinking it was some kind of science project instead of a public relations juggernaut - - that's why Apollo XI had a simple B&W TV camera on the Lunar Module - - they didn't think live TV from the Moon was that important. It's why none of the still cameras sent on the Moon missions were equipped with timers - - NASA planners had no idea it would be great to have BOTH astronauts in a single Moon photo.

I could go on, but I'd just get all twitchy. :(

Brian Fies said...

> It's why none of the still cameras sent on the Moon missions were equipped with timers - - NASA planners had no idea it would be great to have BOTH astronauts in a single Moon photo.

Or ANY still photos of Neil Armstrong on the surface.

Jim O'Kane said...

I'm watching Atlantis roll out to the pad on NASA TV right now. The only people they let stand on the sidelines for this event are the families of NASA workers. I would give up the Internet for a year if I could stand by the crawler-way as a Shuttle rolled by.

Maybe by the next time something heads for space down that same highway, I'll have better connections at KSC. :)

Home Inspector Training said...

I’ve followed the shuttle since its inaugural flight and it’s a pity its being put out of action. Feel that it could have been able to continue in some way, since so many funds and lives have been changed by it. Remember those first photos from the Hubble, WOW!

Tim said...

Dunno if any of you have already seen these, but this collection definitely qualifies for the Coolest Picture Ever hall of fame.


Those were taken from a Soyus capsule leaving the station May 23, 2011, while Endeavour was still docked.

Be sure to download the full size images.

Brian Fies said...

Tim, I did see those pictures but didn't want to turn my blog into "all space all the time," although I easily could. They're terrific--and, again, the kind of pictures I wish NASA had taken years ago.

Home Inspector Training, I also remember the first shuttle tests and launches. In fact, I love the otherwise-mediocre James Bond film "Moonraker" just because it depicted several shuttle launches before any real ones had happened. Sneak peek courtesy of Hollywood!

The shuttles have their pros and cons, and I think fair people can argue whether they've been a net positive for space exploration. I'd say yes, but only by a little. In point of fact, we don't need a shuttle to launch a space telescope like Hubble; for the cost of the shuttle program, we could've had a hundred Hubbles. Which isn't to say the shuttle funding would have been magically available for other science if there'd been no manned space program. So it's complicated. But there's no denying the accomplishment of having humans living and working long-term in space, and the ISS and shuttle made that happen. And these new pictures stir my space-lovin' soul.