This week (November 17, 2011), NASA released new evidence that space is beautiful in the form of the photograph below. It’s a Progress supply craft re-entering Earth’s atmosphere after a six-month stay at the International Space Station (ISS).
The photo depicts the curvature of the Earth, the light emitted by atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere (known as airglow), and the glare of the rising sun. It’s one frame of a time-lapse video taken by the astronauts of Expedition 29 above the ISS as Progress 42P (Russian designation M10-M) was undocked and de-orbited on October 29, 2011.
The Progress series is based on the Russian Soyuz design, and are robotic, unmanned crafts used to bring cargo and supplies to the space station. Astronauts can then load it up with refuse and unwanted cargo, which burn up with the craft upon re-entry. Basically, Earth’s atmosphere becomes the incinerator for both the spent Progress spacecraft and the ISS refuse.
This particular supply vehicle – Progress 42P (Russian designation M-10M) – docked at the ISS on April 29, 2011. It was undocked and de-orbited on October 29, 2011.
On August 24, 2011, Progress M12-M crashed in Siberia, causing concerns that astronauts would have to abandon the ISS temporarily. Without the U.S. Space Shuttle program, the Russian Soyuz crafts are the only method for sending astronauts to the ISS. That’s why the October 30, 2011 successful Soyuz rocket launch of a replacement Progress supply ship was good news for ISS. It means ISS will continue to be occupied in the months to come.
Laura Dattaro came to EarthSky from the Baltimore City Paper, where she remains an associate editor, and from @ldattaro on Twitter. She is a 2009 graduate of University of Delaware with degrees in English and music and sees science as a way to unite humanity behind a greater good, besides being simply the coolest thing to read and write about. She currently lives in Baltimore.