Unique Shuttle-space Station Photo Planned Tonight

This photo, taken on Sept. 10, 1991, of Superior Fire Department Capt. Leonard Rouse giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a kitten. The kitten survived and was adopted by Rouse, who named it "Smudge". Credit: Charles Curtis, Duluth News-Tribune

I worked for many years with photographer Chuck Curtis at the Duluth News Tribune. He’s since passed away. Besides the daily run of photo assignments, Chuck would come up with occasional photo ideas of his own that he’d carefully plan out in advance for just the right angle and effect. I remember one in particular of an ice fisherman on Lake Superior taken from a great distance with a long telephoto lens at sunrise. He noted the sunrise point and the chose the best location from which to shoot in advance to capture the cold, colorful scene.

Early this evening, a Soyuz spacecraft piloted by Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev and carrying NASA astronaut Cady Coleman and an Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli will undock from the International Space Station and back away to a distance of about 650 feet. Instead of departing immediately to return to Earth, the spacecraft will pause, allowing time for Nespoli to seat himself at a window to take still photos and video of the shuttle-space station- Russia/European cargo ship complex. Once he’s in position, the space station will be rotated through 130 degrees to show off the shuttle Endeavour to best advantage.

 A NASA simulation shows different views of how the shuttle Endeavour and International Space Station will appear this evening, when a the crew of a Russian Soyuz capsule photographs the complex after undocking. Credit: NASA TV

Sounds easy enough, but the unique opportunity to photograph all the international partners involved in the space station complex took plenty of work and cooperation with the Russian space agency Roscosmos responsible for the Soyuz craft. They originally nixed the idea because of technical reasons involved in the special maneuver, but because Endeavour’s launch was delayed two weeks, that put the shuttle at the station at the same time as the planned Soyuz return to Earth. Taking photos during the departure would almost be a no-brainer.

Once the Soyuz crew is on the ground, NASA and Roscosmos will release the pictures as soon as possible, perhaps even by tomorrow. It will be the first photo of a shuttle and the space station against the backdrop of Earth taken from a remote vantage point. If Chuck were still here, he’d be smiling in appreciation of such a well-planned photo op.

North is up in this photo taken on May 21 of Jupiter. The narrower, dark belt is the NEB; the broader, paler belt is the SEB. The dark spots are the shadows of the moons Io (left) and Europa. Credit: Christopher Go

As we’ve seen in recent blogs, Jupiter is returning to view in the morning sky in the constellation Pisces the Fish. You’ll find it very low due east some 30-45 minutes before sunrise. Of the four planets currently visible at dawn, it’s the easiest to spot. Recent photos taken by Philippine amateur astronomer and astrophotographer Christopher Go reveal that Jupiter’s South Equatorial Belt (SEB), famous for disappearing more than a year ago, has fully revived and easy to see in even small telescopes. The North Equatorial Belt (NEB) is very dark and red in color. What surprises will the planet have in store for us this season?