Coming Back Down To Our Fragile Oasis


Saying goodbye to our friends and our home on the International Space Station was bittersweet after nearly six months in space. Although Andrey Borisenko, Alexander Samokutyaev and I were eager to return to our beautiful Earth, we wanted to savor our last moments as we took a couple of laps around our Fragile Oasis before coming back down. Today, November 21, 2011, we look forward to welcoming our crewmates Mike Fossum, Sergei Volkov and Satoshi Furukawa as they come “Down to Earth” after their half year onboard the International Space Station. God Speed & Welcome Home Guys! Thank you Peter Gabriel for allowing your music to accompany all of us. Perfect! 
About This Video
Time-lapse video like this one is about as close as we can come to show what astronauts see in space.  Here’s how this came about.
About six weeks before my return to Earth from the International Space Station, I received an Email from Katrina Willoughby, who is one of our photography instructors. She suggested giving time-lapse photography a try. I hadn’t tried time-lapse yet because I overestimated how hard it would be to capture great images, and the time-lapse photography I had seen to date didn’t seem as impressive as the still imagery we had been taking with some of the new equipment onboard. 
A day or two after receiving Katrina’s email, I set up a Nikon D3S camera in the cupola (our windowed observatory onboard the ISS). I took some practice shots, playing with the camera settings until things looked about right. I then set up the camera to take about 500 pictures at 3-second intervals (more details about the camera settings are below). When I saw the results, I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep!  
I quickly loaded the pictures on the computer in my crew quarters and stitched together a time-lapse video.  As I was doing this, Peter Gabriel’s song “Down to Earth” popped into my head, and I threw the first part of the audio track on to the video. Peter’s music was on my playlist.
I posted the video to my blog on August 26th – “Sneak Peek From Space” It is this sequence – Europe to the Indian Ocean – that opens the time lapse part of the video embedded here at 1:06. 
The next morning, I gathered my crewmates together and played the time-lapse video while explaining how simple it was to stitch it all together. All of my crewmates experimented with this medium to capture the space experience, especially Mike Fossum, who has since elevated time-lapse photography from space to an art form. All the sequences for this video were shot by either Mike or me.  
Although the International Space Station travels at 17,500mph, orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes, time-lapse photography speeds up our apparent motion considerably. 
The flashes of light you see throughout the video is lightning captured by the individual frames of the photography. Yet, only a small percentage of the actual lightning is captured in the imagery. While the video is sped up, I think it still accurately captures the paparazzi-look of lightening storms as we see them from space. 
While still onboard the ISS, Peter Gabriel and I brainstormed some ideas for using this type of imagery to help tell the Fragile Oasis story. The possibilities are truly exciting, and I can’t wait to see where this leads. I hope it will help people follow our missions not as spectators, but as fellow crewmembers, inspired to help improve life on our planet.
Camera Information
Night sequences were shot exclusively using the  Nikon D3s, usually with a wide angle lens.  The camera was set up to take pictures, commonly at three second intervals, generally resulting in a fairly “smooth” video.  
Both focus and exposure were set manually. When the camera was allowed to expose automatically, it would change the exposure between shots, resulting in uneven lighting through the video.  ISO would be set near 10000 or higher. Shutter speeds were as low as 1 second, but often longer.  Aperture was wide open.  For the 17-35mm lens this was f/2.8.
Day sequences were shot with either the D3S or the D2XS. Wide-angle lenses were normally used.  The Nikon 17-35mm lens was often used near the wide end, such as 17mm. This showed the curvature of the Earth.
Mike Fossum took this picture of me preparing to take some time-lapse photography from the International Space Station cupola as we traveled over coastal Australia, giving new meaning to the Peter Garbriel song, “Downside Up”. The instrumental version opens and closes this video. 
With sincere thanks:
“Downside Up”
Written by Peter Gabriel
Performed by Peter Gabriel (feat: Melanie Gabriel)
(P) 2011 Peter Gabriel Ltd
Published by Real World Music Ltd.
Courtesy of
“Down To Earth”
Performed by Peter Gabriel
Music by Peter Gabriel & Thomas Newman / Lyrics by Peter Gabriel
Published by: Wonderland Music Company, Inc. (BMI)/Pixar Music (BMI)
L.A. sessions Produced by Thomas Newman
Produced by Peter Gabriel
Recorded by Richard Chappell
Mixed by Tchad Blake
(P) 2008 Walt Disney Records/Pixar 
Courtesy of Walt Disney Records

A Tale of Two Homecomings – Part I

Crossposted on

I just arrived back in Star City Russia after two and a half weeks home in Houston. 
At the end of the trip from Kazakhstan to Houston I was greeted by a wonderful welcome home from friends and neighbors in Nassau Bay, Texas. As we crossed into the city of Nassau Bay, a police car, police motorcycle and fire truck greeted us for a slow speed escort to my home, complete with lights and sirens. 
There was a great turnout, and the Garan house was decorated with welcome home banners and one hundred sixty four American flags – one for each day I spent in space on the mission.
The heart-warming welcome was really wonderful after so much time away. It was great to be home! 
Return to Star City
As I write this, I have flown back to Moscow, battled the Moscow traffic, and I’m now sitting in the cottage in Star City where I lived for about fifty percent of the time over the two and a half years of training for my mission to the International Space Station. 
The NASA cottages in Star City during training
Tomorrow I will start the debrief process with the instructors and administration here in Star City. On Friday Sasha, Andrey and I will participate in the Star City Welcome Home ceremonies that signify the successful completion of our mission. 
I am really looking forward to seeing all my friends, and the wonderful people here in Star City, and thanking them for all their support during our mission.

In the Spirit of Yuri's Night – Thank you #FromSpace

Originally posted at

I accept this (Spirit of Yuri’s Night) award on behalf of everyone who is striving to use space exploration to contribute to the future of humanity on earth and in space, and the people involved with our efforts at Fragile Oasis to use the orbital perspective to help inspire people to make a positive difference on our planet.
[Editor’s note: Ron was honored with the 2011 “Spirit of Yuri’s Night” award by Yuri’s Night, the global celebration of the  history, present, and future of human spaceflight.  Learn more here.]

Three Ships Pass In The Night – Part I

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Greetings from the International Space Station. I am enjoying some time off after an incredibly busy two weeks. Since my last post, the Space Shuttle Endeavour docked, and then undocked after a very successful and productive mission. As I write this, the Endeavour crew is making final preparations for their return to Earth after sixteen-days in space. In the middle of Endeavor’s mission, half of the International Space Station crew departed for home in their Soyuz spacecraft. Dmitry Kondratiev, Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli are safely home on Earth.
Originally, the Soyuz was scheduled to undock after Endeavor’s mission, but the delay in her launch to the Space Station led to the Soyuz leaving while the shuttle was docked – a first, and a thrill.
On their way home @Astro_Paolo is in the Soyuz window taking historic pics of the #ISS + #Endeavour #FromSpace
On the day of Endevor’s rendezvous and docking, Dima and I positioned ourselves at the central post of the Russian Service module. I was manning a computer that controls the systems of the US Operating Segment (USOS), and Dima was at a computer that controls the systems of the Russian Segment (RS). At the moment of docking I sent a computer command for the space station to stop controlling attitude and go into free drift. Dima was at the ready to send the same command through the Russian systems, if necessary. Everything worked perfectly, and the final docking of Endeavour to the International Space Station went smoothly and beautifully. 
: Dima and I supporting the docking of Space Shuttle Endeavour, and the crew of STS-134
The past couple of weeks have been filled with many new and incredible sights and experiences, but I’m going to save those for the next installment of this story about Space Shuttle Endeavour’s last trip to the International Space Station. Please stay tuned.
Room for One More? Expedition 27 and STS-134 crews

Beginnings and Endings: Lots in Between

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I’m about to start my seventh week in space. 
It will be busy one – with the docking of the Space Shuttle Endeavour and the crew of STS-134, and then a few days later, the undocking of the Soyuz spacecraft that will return to Earth with Dima, Paolo and Cady after almost six months in space.  
Dima, Cady and Paolo (not shown) practicing for their return to Earth aboard the same Soyuz spacecraft that brought them to space.
Dima, Cady and Paolo (not shown) practicing for their return to Earth aboard the same Soyuz spacecraft that brought them to space.
During this period of relative calm before the proverbial storm, I’d like to reflect on some of the amazing experiences I’ve been having. 
Earth at Night
One of my favorite things to do is to look at the Earth at night. It’s hard to describe how beautiful it is to see the sun set, and then the Earth come to life from space. In the period between sunset on the ground and the orbital sunset, it’s hard to see anything on the ground. The space station is still bathed in bright sunlight, while the Earth is dark. But when the sun sets behind the Earth from our orbital vantage point, our planet takes on a completely different character. Geographical features become visible, and the lights of cities and towns begin to light up the Earth.  
But when the sun sets behind the Earth from our orbital vantage point, the Earth takes on a completely different character. Geographical features start to become visible and the lights of cities and towns begin to light up the Earth.
From space, city lights.
A Floating Planetarium
One night last week, I turned off all the interior lights near the Cupola, opened the window shutters, and just took in the view. 
After my eyes adjusted to the darkness, the Milky Way, planets and countless stars became visible. I floated there for the entire night pass (about 45 minutes), watching the incredible night sky and the living Earth with rolling lightening storms below me. Because of our motion around the Earth, the stars and Milky Way seemed to rotate around us as if we were in a floating planetarium.  Seeing a shooting star below me was a special treat near the end of the pass. Since we are above any meteors entering the atmosphere, we see them below us (or more specifically between us and the Earth).
Staying Connected
Another interesting aspect of living on the International Space Station is feeling simultaneously more connected and less connected to life on the planet. Living here, I am isolated from my life on Earth. At the same time, events on Earth, such as the flooding of the Mississippi River, offer the opportunity for a unique connection. As we fly over the area, we can see the effects of the swelling river across many states.
The swollen Mississippi River from Space
The swollen Mississippi River from space.
We also have some technology to stay connected to home and to you. In addition to an IP (Internet) phone which we can use to call friends and loved ones on Earth, we also have access to the Internet through a remote desktop. Whenever we have the proper satellite communications coverage, I can remotely control a computer located in Houston. This is what enables me to Tweet my experiences in almost real time and to answer your questions. So now you know!
Through our communications technology, I was also able to speak to a team of people in Kenya as they where about to embark on the largest privately funded deployment of clean water systems in the world. 
Speaking to the team in Kenya
Connected to some of the team in Kakamega, Kenya
It was an incredible experience to talk to a group of people I’m involved with independent of my work with NASA, who are providing clean water to over 4 million Kenyans. 
It is wonderful to be able to connect with projects and people making the world a better place, and being able to fly over these areas and see them from this incredible vantage point. All of us on our planet are connected through our shared humanity – even those of us living in space. 
A Mystery
The final experience I’ll share in this post is actually a mystery to me. On May 9th, I conducted my first Ham Radio pass from space. The event was with Mt. Carmel Academy in Houston TX.  The plan was for me to make initial contact with a Ham operator in Belgium as we flew overhead, who would then patch me over to the school. 
As we approached Belgium, I put on the ham radio headset and heard the voice of my close friend and STS-133 crewmember Nicole Stott giving what sounded like a presentation. It turns out that the crew of STS-133 was at that very moment giving the STS-133 post flight presentation at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. I was able to listen for about 5 minutes before I lost that signal. I was also able to make contact with Mt. Carmel Academy, and answer their great questions about life in space. I still don’t know how I was able to hear the STS-133 presentation. If anyone has an idea about how that happened, I’d love to hear it!
Expedition 28
This is probably my last post as an ISS Expedition 27 crewmember.  Expedition 27 will end with the undocking of the crew aboard the Soyuz, and their return to Earth. Then, Expedition 28 begins.  In my next post I hope to describe the successful completion of Expedition 27 and STS-134, and the beginning of Expedition 28. Please stay tuned.  
Expedition 27 and Expedition 28 mission patches
Expedition 27 and Expedition 28 mission patches.

Last Blog Post On Earth. For Now.

Yes, this is my last blog post on Earth (at least for awhile) but hopefully, shortly after we arrive on the Space Station, I can start posting again. Here I sit in my quarantine room a day before launch. The last week was spent conducting review classes, going over our procedures, checking out our spacecraft systems and provisions and participating in prelaunch traditions.
One of the traditions we participated in was the planting of our trees. Every cosmonaut or astronaut who has launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome since Yuri Gagarin, has planted a tree with his or her name on it in the grove not far from the quarantine facility. Yuri’s is pretty big now (It’s exactly 50 years old).
Photo Credit: NASA
The buzz around the 50th anniversary of the first human spaceflight is really starting to pick up. Many dignitaries are starting to arrive and we have been conducting a lot of media interviews concerning the historical significance of this anniversary.
Photo Credit: NASA
For me, it is an incredibly significant milestone in the history of humanity. On that April 12th in 1961, humanity made a giant leap in our evolution as a species. We instantly became a species that was no longer confined to the boundaries of our Earth. On that day, we were no longer a single planet species. My fellow bloggernaut, Don Pettit likes to say, “If the Dinosaurs had a space program, they’d be still around.” I agree that our US and international space programs are crucial to our future.
As I said in my last post, another really important aspect of what we are celebrating in recognizing this anniversary is the international cooperation that was born out of the space program. There is no doubt in my mind that the world is a safer and more peaceful place today than it would be otherwise if we had not taken that first step into space. Even at the height of the Cold War, Russia and the U.S. still somehow found a way to cooperate during the Apollo-Soyuz program, which accomplished the first docking of US and Russian spacecraft.
Photo Credit: NASA
One of the pre-launch traditions that Alexander Samokutyaev, Andrey Borisenko and I were not able to take part in as the prime crew was the rollout of our rocket and spacecraft. Today, in the early morning hours, a train carrying our rocket left the huge hanger of the vehicle assembly building and made the short journey to the launch pad.
Photo Credit: Jake Garan
With all our guests and our backup crew in attendance the rocket was erected to the vertical launch position onto the same launch pad that Yuri Gagarin launched from 50 years ago.
Having watched this before when I was a backup for Scott Kelly’s mission, I can say it is quite a sight to see the clash between the old and the new. Against the backdrop of grazing camels, it was a beautiful sight to see this train carrying one of only a couple of vehicles that is capable of carrying humans beyond our atmosphere. The swiftness that the rocket is readied for launch is truly amazing. Over the course of what seems like less than an hour the rocket goes from riding on the back of a train to standing tall on the launch pad.
Photo Credit: Jake Garan
After rollout, we were very fortunate to be able to spend a little time with our family members and other guests who were able to make it to Baikonur for launch. I am very grateful to those people were able to make it, and to those who tried but unfortunately were not able to attend. We really had a wonderful day with each crew-member’s guests. It was a very special experience watching everyone get to know each other as we all shared this unique experience.
Later today we will go before the State Commission and each of us will have the opportunity to say a few words. Following the meeting with the State Commission we will have a press conference from behind the glass separating us from the media before we watch the traditional prelaunch movie “Белое Cолнце Пустыни” (White Sun of the Desert). I’m not sure exactly when this tradition started, but every crew for probably at least the last 15 years has watched this film before launch. I think this is one of those traditions that nobody really knows why we do it.
After the movie the crew heads to bed for the last time on Earth for the next 5 1//2 months. After 2 ½ years of training I think each of us is ready to get to work and to do our best to accomplish our mission objectives.
As I have said on this blog before, one of my personal mission objectives is to use the unique perspective of living and working in space to inspire people to make the world a better place. I really think if everyone could see what we see from space, we would have a lot fewer problems and everyone would be more inclined to help each other. Since we all can’t have this experience, I will do my best to share it with all I can, as best I can.
The highlights for tomorrow will be signing the doors of our quarantine rooms, receiving a blessing from a Russian Orthodox priest, boarding buses for the 20 minute ride through the desert to the launch facility, changing into our spacesuits, then reporting to the State Commission before re-boarding the bus for the 5 minute ride to the launch pad.  After arriving at the launch pad, we will pause for a brief photo oppurtunity at the base of the rocket before we climb in and strap ourselves in for the ride. Then the candle will be lit at 6:18pm (Eastern) and our journey will begin!
I’m going to sign off now for the last time on this planet. Over the next 5 ½ months I will do my best to bring everyone along with us on this mission; not as spectators but as participants and fellow crewmembers. When our new Fragile Oasis site is up and running, I encourage everyone to join and become crewmembers. Please help us to spread the word about Fragile Oasis. Let’s try and get as many people as possible to share in the experience.
Fragile Oasis Bloggernauts
Also remember that on launch day Dan Burbank will tweet behind the scenes video and pictures from my twitter account He will use the hashtag #ToOrbit and sign his name ^DB.
In the words of Yuri Gagarin as he left the launch pad on that historic day, Поехали “WE’RE OFF!”
What Kind of World Do You Want?

My First Blog Post From Space

Originally posted at
Greetings from the International Space Station. This blog was actually written while onboard the Soyuz during the 2-day trip from launch to the space station.  But I’m now down linking it from the space station – enjoy:

April 4th 2011, the crew of Soyuz TMA-21 woke up at about 8:30am, we were able to spend an hour or so with our families, then we packed up our belongings, ate lunch and went back to bed.

Traditional signing of the door to our new crew quarters.

We then started our “real” day at 7:00pm. After dinner, we met with some of the Russian Space Agency managers before we began the launch ceremonies. Starting with the traditional signing of the doors of our crew quarters rooms, we then received a blessing from a Russian Orthodox priest and made our way to the buses that would take us to the launch facility. Many friends, family and co-workers lined the route to the buses and gave us a great send off!

It was a very quiet 20 minute ride through the pitch-black desert to the Baikonur Launch Facility. As we were waiting to change into our spacesuits at the launch facility, we watched a very nice send-off video with messages from the friends and family of each of us on the crew (I really appreciated that).

After changing into our Sokol spacesuits, we had a brief meeting with the State Commision.  With friends, family, and visiting dignitaries in attendance, and with the State Commission on one side of a large glass window and the crew on the other, we had our last few words with the managers who represent the many people who worked to get everything ready for launch.

After the meeting with the State Commission and giving our final report we boarded buses for the launch pad. As the bus pulled away we were able to wave goodbye to those people in attendance that are special to us in our last face-to-face contact for the next 6-months.

As the bus pulled away we were able to wave goodbye to those people in attendance that our special to us in our last face-to-face contact for the next 6-months

Arriving at the launch pad we were greeted by a very memorable sight. The rocket was completely covered in a layer of white ice. We could hear the rocket venting and the sight of the white oygen vapor being bathed in the floodlights on the very early morning hours of April 5th was sight to be seen. The whole launch process was steeped in tradition – even the walk from the bus was symbolic.

As we walked to the foot of the launch pad, space program senior managers held us on both sides as we walked. This was very good because it’s hard to walk in those spacesuits

As we walked to the foot of the launch pad, space program senior managers held us on both sides as we walked. This was very good because it’s hard to walk in those spacesuits! But, I also think they represented the many thousands of people who actually helped bring us to this launch. One of those in my case was Mike Suffredini, head of NASA’s International Space Station program.

In an interesting tradition I was not aware of, each of us received a kick in the butt from one of the senior Russian Space program managers as we stepped toward the ladder to the launch pad   – as if to provide one last measure of encouragement to launch.

The three crewmembers and one technician rode the elevator through clouds of liquid oxygen to the top of the rocket. Each of us signed the entry hatch and climbed inside and took our respective places in the capsule.

During the hours of launch prep there were times when the crew really had nothing to do but wait. During those periods music was played over our headsets. One of the songs I really enjoyed listening to was “One” by U2.

Lying in our seats before launch was actually very peaceful.  We periodically felt vibrations and valves opening and closing, and we heard fans and motors turning on and off, but through all that I felt a peaceful reassurance that everything was ready to go. The vehicle definitely felt alive and ready. Laying there strapped to the rocket I thought about all those people that are close to me that were watching there in Baikonur, on TV or online.

About 10 seconds before the planned liftoff we could hear and feel the engines start. When the clock hit zero, we could feel ourselves being propelled upward. In recognition of the 50th anniversary of  the launch of the first human to space, Soyuz Commander Alexander Samokutyaev calmly said,  “In the words of Yuri Gararin, Поехали.” (We’re off.).  I, on the other hand, let loose with a spontaneous  “Woo Hoo!”

The 1st stage of the launch had a lot less vibration than I remember from my Shuttle launch. The 2nd stage separation however was quite an event, which led to my second “Woo Hoo!”

After our rocket fairing bearing the name and likeness of  Yuri Gagarin jettisoned, exposing the windows of our capsule, I watched my 1st of many orbital sunrises. The launch was actually significantly more fun than I had anticipated. After we got to space I felt like Fred Randal from the movie “Rocket Man.” I wanted to yell out, “Can we do that again” but restrained myself. After launch it was probably at least another 4 hours until I was out of my seat and out of my spacesuit.

A few minutes after launch

After a few hours of procedures and maneuvers to put our spacecraft on the proper course to “catch up” with the ISS, Alexander and I, like bats, hung our sleeping bags from the top of the Soyuz habitation compartment with our heads down to the hatch to the descent module with Andrey building his nest in the descent module. I usually find it hard to sleep in space but after such a long and exciting day I dropped right off.

As I write this, it is the morning of our first full day in space. I’m finding this experience much different than my experience on the Space Shuttle. Not just because it’s a smaller vehicle, but mainly because we only have brief periods of time, every few hours, when we have contact with the ground.

Basically it’s just the three of us in our little spacecraft, Sasha, Andrey and I, separated from everyone else in the world.

It really is an interesting place to be. The spacecraft slowly rotates about all 3 axes as it orbits the Earth (pitch, yaw, and roll). Looking out the window I felt like I was riding on a slowly tumbling leaf being blown around the world. The Soyuz spacecraft is a great and reliable ship and although it is a very small vehicle, it is surprisingly comfortable to live in on orbit (assuming you like the people you’re with – which I do!)

Thinking back over the last 24 hours in space I need to stop for a moment and express how amazed and impressed I am with my crewmates. Although this was the first flight for both Alexander & Andrey, they both adapted to weightless immediately and acted like they were seasoned, veteran cosmonauts. I know of no way to predict how people will react after arriving space for the first time, so I felt very fortunate to be a part of such a capable crew.

Between now and joining up with the space station, we will continue to adapt to our new environment, get our spacecraft ready for the docking, and look at our beautiful Earth while thinking of all of those people we said goodbye to, and won’t see for the next six months.

I’ve also been thinking of all the people who helped to make this experience wonderful for me personally: the people who were able to make it to the launch, those that couldn’t but supported us from home, and all the people who supported us in Baikonur. I am filled with gratitude to our family escorts, flight docs and managers, our instructors and Baikonur support staff.

I’m going to close for now. In my next post I hope to describe our first experiences after arriving on the International Space Station.

All the best from Earth orbit,


Happy Easter from The International Space Station

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I am writing this very early Easter morning. I took pictures of the Holy Land and other areas in the region yesterday, April 23rd, and thought it appropriate to share with everyone.


It’s interesting that I’ve spent one Easter (2006) living on the bottom of the ocean during the NEEMO-9 mission and now I’m spending one in space.

Nile River
The Nile River

I understand how blessed I am to have the opportunity to celebrate Easter while marveling at God’s creation that we call home.

Israel and Egypt
Looking back to the southwest, toward Israel and Egypt

It really is true that the Earth looks very peaceful from space. It was surreal to be directly over Libya with a beautiful view to the east of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

Libya, Egypt and Sudan
Near the borders of Libya, Egypt and Sudan

My Easter prayer is that all the inhabitants of our Fragile Oasis come to the realization that we are in this together; that we are all riding together through the universe on this spaceship we call Earth; that love and understanding can conquer all, and that nothing is impossible if we overcome our differences, and then work together to solve the problems facing our world.

Haifa, in the foothills of Mount Carmel in Northern Israel