This post is about real birds and real bees (sort of). On St. Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2011, I left Houston for Star City, Russia via Frankfurt and Moscow, and the start of my journey to space. As I sat at the airport, I wrote the blog post, “IAH Gate E7: 1st Leg on the Journey to Space“
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.
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:
Written by Peter Gabriel
Performed by Peter Gabriel (feat: Melanie Gabriel)
(P) 2011 Peter Gabriel Ltd
Published by Real World Music Ltd.
Courtesy of petergabriel.com
“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
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.
About two weeks before my return to Earth, I had a videoconference from the International Space Station with astronaut Scott Kelly who told me about his experience plunging over Niagara Falls in a burning barrel six months before. He was actually describing what his own ride home from the ISS on a Soyuz spacecraft was like. Now that I’ve taken the same trip, I can tell you that it was as advertised, and more.
I spent undocking day completing a biological study and stowing it onboard the Soyuz for return to Earth, packing cargo, taking some last minute pictures of our beautiful planet from the space station Cupola, and Tweeting pictures I took on my last full day in space. Following a brief goodbye to Mike Fossum, Satoshi Furukawa and Sergei Volkov, who remain onboard the space station, Sasha, Andrey and I hurried into our Soyuz spacecraft, closed the hatch and started preparing for undocking.
Once the hatch was closed, I put on special garments worn under my spacesuit to help counteract the negative effects of the g-forces we would encounter upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Sasha and Andrey also dressed in their spacesuits, and then we all strapped into the same seats we occupied when we launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 5, 2011. Andrey was on the left, Sasha in the middle, and I sat on the right.
As the hooks securing our spacecraft released, springs pushed us slowly away from the space station. As we backed away, I took in my last views of the amazing orbital complex that we called home for five and a half months. I strained for a last glimpse of the outboard edge of the space station’s massive solar arrays through the window next to my seat.
We made a lap and a half around the Earth before the spacecraft fishtailed to point backwards, just as the moon was setting west of South America. Then, moments before passing the southern tip of the continent, I watched an orbital sunrise one last time. We then fired the main engines for about four and a half minutes, enough to slow us down for re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
The next big event during our return to Earth was the separation of our Soyuz spacecraft into three separate parts: the orbital compartment, the propulsion compartment and the descent capsule, the only part that would survive the transition through the atmosphere. Separation occurred with a small explosion followed by debris flying everywhere out my window!
G-forces started to build soon after separation. I could see the atmosphere change to pink outside my window. North Africa and Saudi Arabia flew by as we approached Earth at a steep angle, at just under 5 miles per second. Fountains of sparks flashed as the g-forces built to 4.5 times normal gravity. Then flames, as the window burned black and opaque. This is all entirely normal!
The drogue parachute opened, sending the capsule – and the three of us – into a wild gyration as though we were on the end of a towel being vigorously waved in every direction. After about thirty seconds, things settled down. Then, the main chute opened and the wild gyrations started all over again. “It’s like a wild American amusement park ride,” shouted Andrey in Russian. I simply shouted “Yoo Hoo!”
To help absorb the shock of landing, explosive charges fired and instantly pushed our seats forward so that our faces were very close to the instrument panel. Window covers were jettisoned, removing the burnt opaque layer on the exterior of our windows, allowing light to flood into the cockpit, and providing an unobstructed view of the Kazakh steppes rushing up to meet us.
We could hear the rescue helicopters calling our altitude, and instructing us to prepare for landing. I raised my right arm so that I could see the window in my wrist mirror, and watched as the ground rose up.
I heard the “soft” landing rockets fire 6/10 of a second before impact. The actual impact with the ground was significantly harder than I anticipated. I remember thinking, “Wow that was hard, I’m glad that’s over.” Little did I know we had a few landings to go!
I knew that after landing we might have the sensation of tumbling because of changes to our vestibular system (balance) following a long mission in space. Debris being tossed around INSIDE the capsule was a solid sign we were really tumbling. The capsule finally came to rest on its side, with me on the bottom. The view from my window was dirt and grass. Earth.
Shortly after landing, Russian ground personnel opened the hatch, extracting Sasha from the capsule. I was next, followed by Andrey. The three of us were carried to reclining chairs, where we were able to speak to our families via satellite phone while the medical tent was being set up. It was wonderful to speak with my family in Houston while we were all on the same planet, and it was really great to feel the cool breeze and warm sun on my face for the first time in 164 days.
After moving to the medical tent, I changed from my spacesuit into a more comfortable flight suit, while being checked out by Dr. Steve Gilmore and our NASA medical personnel. After we were all checked out, Sasha, Andrey and I left the landing site in three separate helicopters for a ninety-minute ride to Karaganda airport. I took a nap.
Tradition and Farewell
We were welcomed at the airport by officials and young people, who presented each of us with flowers, chocolates, hand painted dolls and traditional Kazakh robes, which we wore during the press conference that followed. Then, after nearly three years of training together and sharing a mission during this milestone fiftieth year of human spaceflight, Sasha, Andrey and I said farewell, and then continued on our respective journeys home.
My journey home to Houston began when I boarded a NASA aircraft. The first stop was for refueling in Prestwick, Scotland. I was glued to the window on final approach as the lush green countryside passed below us. It was great to get out and walk around in the fresh Scottish air before continuing to Bangor, Maine in the United States.
As we approached the airport in Maine, we were treated to a stunning sunset. I sat there contemplating the difference between this sunset and the countless orbital sunsets I watched during my stay on the ISS. Besides the realization that I would see only one sunset each day, instead of sixteen, I really noticed the differences in the colors and the thickness in the bands of sunset. As we waited for the aircraft to be refueled, I had the chance to speak with some Marine Corps V-22 pilots also waiting for fuel, and to let family know I was back in the U.S.
I slept for almost the entire last leg of our flight, awakened by the sound of the flaps being lowered in preparation for landing at Ellington Field in Houston. The landing was smooth and uneventful. My wife and three sons boarded the plane. I was truly home.
“As I prepared to leave for final launch preparations, I experienced an interesting phenomenon. Realizing that leaving Houston starts me on a journey that will take me off the planet for six months, I started to take note of things that I will not experience for half a year. Whether it’s a flock of birds against the sunset or early morning mist on the water of Clear Lake, or a million other things that define the beauty of life on our planet, I experienced a profound appreciation for the gift of the beauty of our world. I will miss a great many experiences that I normally take for granted, but I also look forward to the new experiences that define the beauty of life off the planet.”
So here I am about to return to Earth after five and a half months in space. I’m getting excited about again experiencing all those things that define life on Earth. At the same time, however, I’m realizing that I will leave behind all those things that define life in space.
I’ve been told that when Sasha Samokutyaev, Andrey Borisenko and I land later today, we will have spent 164 days in space (162 on the International Space Station), made 2,624 orbits of the Earth, and will have flown 65,340,224 miles (but who’s counting?). After all this time in space, separated from the Earth, I have come to know a new existence up here. An existence that is without many of the sights, sounds, smells and feel of life on Earth, but an existence with its own share of special defining qualities.
Among the things I will miss is the freedom of movement we have here inside the space station. Nothing is out of reach. If I want to go somewhere, I can be there with the push of a finger. If I need to work on something on the floor, I don’t need to bend down – I have the freedom to flip my body around and stand on the ceiling — turning the floor into the ceiling. If my hands are full and I need to grab something, I can simply let go of what I’m holding, and it will stay right in front of me (for a little while, at least).
Not upside down!
I will also truly miss looking out the windows.
The view from my window in the Space Station Cupola: the west coast of Africa
I will miss looking at our beautiful planet and the grandeur of our universe from this vantage point. I will miss watching meteors streak across our atmosphere below us, the rapid fire paparazzi flashbulbs of lightening storms at night, and flying so close to dancing curtains of auroras that you feel like you could reach out and touch them.
Dancing lights near Tasmania 11:00am GMT September 14, 2011
I will miss gazing from space at places on Earth that have significance to me because of the memories of visits or their beauty. I will also miss seeing those places on the planet where life is being made better through the work of amazing people.
The Horn of Africa 1:45pm GMT September 14, 2011
I will miss watching the Earth transform from day into night and night into day sixteen times a day.
Sunrise from space, August 27, 2011, as we flew along a path between Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
I will miss watching thunderstorms casting long shadows across the Earth as the sun starts to set. I will miss watching the Earth change from blue, white and green to pink, red, and then black as the sun sets. I will miss watching the Earth come alive after the sun has set and the cities and towns light up the planet.
The California coast at daybreak April 17, 2011
I will miss seeing the line that separates day from night and contemplating the stark differences in the human experience on either side as it slowly moves across the surface of our Earth.
The man-made border between India and Pakistan, visible from space on August 17, 2011
I will miss a thousand other things that define life in space and I understand and appreciate that I have been given a special privilege to have these experiences.
Because of this, I also feel a great responsibility to share these experiences, as best I can, with as many people as possible. I have tried very hard over these past months to do just that. I have found that sharing this experience with all of you has made the experience more meaningful and enjoyable. I thank you all for being with me on this journey.
Above all else, what I will miss most about living and working in space is striving to use the orbital perspective to inspire people to make a positive difference and help improve life on Earth. The good news is that I don’t have to be in space (or ever have been in space) to have the orbital perspective. I don’t need to have ever been in space to realize that we have one planet that we are all riding on together through the universe, that we are all interconnected, that we are all family.
I look forward to continuing the efforts of Fragile Oasis after I return to Earth. I look forward to continuing to share this experience with others as best I can. I took tens of thousands of pictures during my time on the International Space Station, and I look forward to continuing sharing those with you after my return to Earth.
Thanks to everyone for being with me on this journey. Let’s continue it together. This my last blog post from space, but in my next post from Earth, I’ll tell you what it was like to be human meteor as Sasha, Andrei and I return to Earth in our Soyuz capsule.
I want to wish all the best to everyone on our good Earth,
Ron Garan, Earthling
Welcome to Cupola Corner Episode 6 – My conversation with Expedition 28 crewmate Mike Fossum, that actually began just about one hundred days ago when he arrived on the International Space Station looking for coffee.
“Don’t leave me Ron!…” — Mike Fossum
Welcome to Cupola Corner Episode 5 – A conversation with Expedition 28 and 29 crewmember Satoshi Furukawa about how we can use the view from the International Space Station to inspire people to make a difference, and to make life better on our planet.
“When I first looked out the window of the ISS…I was moved by the the thin blue atmospheric layer…that protects Earth from the harsh environment of space…” — Satoshi Furukawa
During this morning’s flyover near New York City, the Expedition 28 crew stood in silent tribute to those who were lost on September 11, 2001 in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.
New York City Under the Clouds Sunday, September 11, 2011 10:37am Eastern Time
Mike Fossum and I reflect on September 11, 2001 in this video recorded a few days ago.
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Dobro Pozhalovat Cupola Corner
Welcome to Cupola Corner Episode 4 – A conversation with Expedition 28 and 29 crewmember Sergei Volkov about how we can use the view from the International Space Station to inspire people to make a difference, and to make life better on our planet.
“You can see how thin the atmosphere is that keeps life on earth…” — Sergei Volkov
Dobro Pozhalovat Cupola Corner
Welcome to Cupola Corner Episode 3 – A conversation with Space Station Commander Andrey Borisenko about how we can use the view from here to inspire people to make a difference and to make life better on our planet.
“The more people who can observe our planet from orbit, more will understand how beautiful it is…” — Andrey Borisenko
Dobro Pozhalovat Cupola Corner!
Welcome to Cupola Corner Episode 2 – A conversation with Soyuz Commander Sasha Samokutyaev about how we can use the view from here on the International Space Station to inspire people to make a difference and to make life better on our planet.
“I wish all (could) fly to space and maybe they’ll realize how fragile life is on earth and they will be able to cooperate better.” – Alexander Samokutyaev