I’m compiling here a few of my favorite Earth images from my second mission, STS-68, flown on Endeavour, carrying Space Radar Lab 2. This Earth-imaging radar sensor package, combined with a carbon monoxide pollution sensor, was a joint project of NASA and the German and Italian space agencies.
On the third day of the STS-68 mission, 10/2/94, our crew looked down from Endeavour on Indonesia and captured a rare, nearly clear view of the Tambora volcano, on the island of Sumbawa. North is to the top of our image.
NASA: On April 10, 1815, the Tambora Volcano produced the largest eruption in recorded history. An estimated 150 cubic kilometers (36 cubic miles) of tephra—exploded rock and ash—resulted, with ash from the eruption recognized at least 1,300 kilometers (808 miles) away to the northwest. While the April 10 eruption was catastrophic, historical records and geological analysis of eruption deposits indicate that the volcano had been active between 1812 and 1815. Enough ash was put into the atmosphere from the April 10 eruption to reduce incident sunlight on the Earth’s surface, causing global cooling, which resulted in the 1816 “year without a summer.”
The huge caldera—6 kilometers (3.7 miles) in diameter and 1,100 meters (3,609 feet) deep—formed when Tambora’s estimated 4,000-meter- (13,123-foot) high peak was removed, and the magma chamber below emptied during the April 10 eruption. Today the crater floor is occupied by an ephemeral freshwater lake, recent sedimentary deposits, and minor lava flows and domes from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Active fumaroles, or steam vents, still exist in the caldera.
In 2004, scientists discovered the remains of a village, and two adults buried under approximately 3 meters (nearly 10 feet) of ash in a gully on Tambora’s flank—remnants of the former Kingdom of Tambora preserved by the 1815 eruption that destroyed it. The similarity of the Tambora remains to those associated with the AD 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius has led to the Tambora site’s description as “the Pompeii of the East.”
NASA: Kliuchevskoi Volcano’s major eruption began September 30, 1994 (launch day) for STS-68. It got almost immediate coverage by the astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. The eruption cloud reached 60,000 feet above sea level, and the winds carried ash as far as 640 miles southeast from the volcano into the North Pacific air routes. This picture was made with a large format Linhof camera. While astronauts used handheld camera’s to keep up with the Kamchatka event, instruments in the cargo bay of Endeavour recorded data to support the Space Radar Laboratory (SRL-2) mission.
Our wide-angle 90mm lens on the Linhof camera captured the view above. The Linhof produced a 4×5-inch film negative, with incredible detail. Each magazine held 100 frames, and we refilled magazines with fresh film inside a light-tight bag, stowing the exposed film in canisters and manually spooling a new roll into the magazine. The film reloading was part of our nightly housekeeping routine. But it was hard to tear ourselves away from the windows!
Mt. Rainier, Washington (NASA caption)
This is a radar image of Mount Rainier in Washington state. The volcano last erupted about 150 years ago and numerous large floods and debris flows have originated on its slopes during the last century. Today the volcano is heavily mantled with glaciers and snowfields. More than 100,000 people live on young volcanic mudflows less than 10,000 years old and, consequently, are within the range of future, devastating mudslides. This image was acquired by the Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C and X-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) aboard the space shuttle Endeavour on its 20th orbit on October 1, 1994. The area shown in the image is approximately 59 kilometers by 60 kilometers (36.5 miles by 37 miles). North is toward the top left of the image, which was composed by assigning red and green colors to the L-band, horizontally transmitted and vertically, and the L- band, horizontally transmitted and vertically received. Blue indicates the C-band, horizontally transmitted and vertically received. In addition to highlighting topographic slopes facing the space shuttle, SIR-C records rugged areas as brighter and smooth areas as darker. The scene was illuminated by the shuttle’s radar from the northwest so that northwest-facing slopes are brighter and southeast-facing slopes are dark. Forested regions are pale green in color; clear cuts and bare ground are bluish or purple; ice is dark green and white. The round cone at the center of the image is the 14,435-foot (4,399- meter) active volcano, Mount Rainier. On the lower slopes is a zone of rock ridges and rubble (purple to reddish) above coniferous forests (in yellow/green). The western boundary of Mount Rainier National Park is seen as a transition from protected, old-growth forest to heavily logged private land, a mosaic of recent clear cuts (bright purple/blue) and partially regrown timber plantations (pale blue). The prominent river seen curving away from the mountain at the top of the image (to the northwest) is the White River, and the river leaving the mountain at the bottom right of the image (south) is the Nisqually River, which flows out of the Nisqually glacier on the mountain. The river leaving to the left of the mountain is the Carbon River, leading west and north toward heavily populated regions near Tacoma. The dark patch at the top right of the image is Bumping Lake. Other dark areas seen to the right of ridges throughout the image are radar shadow zones. Radar images can be used to study the volcanic structure and the surrounding regions with linear rock boundaries and faults. In addition, the recovery of forested lands from natural disasters and the success of reforestation programs can also be monitored. Ultimately this data may be used to study the advance and retreat of glaciers and other forces of global change. (P-44703 October 3, 1994)
The area above is my stomping grounds, the region where I grew up, and I can see my entire youthful experience in this single photo, from the Appalachians to the Atlantic Coast. I grew up in Baltimore, and now live and work near Washington, DC. So much U.S. history is also captured in this shot, from the formative moves toward independence in 1776, to major battlefields of the Civil War, to the great Emancipation in 1862 and at the Civil War’s close. During WWII, the Martin aircraft factory in Baltimore built the B-26 Marauder bomber, and in the 1960s produced the Gemini-Titan II boosters that jump-started my space interests. During the mission, my brother watched me soar overhead in Endeavour before dawn from his home in Fredericksburg, VA, in the Chesapeake region.
added Aug. 20, 2019
My Endeavour crew was awed by our night-time flights through the shifting curtains of the Aurora Australis, off the southern coasts of Australia and New Zealand. We felt like we were riding on the tip of a needle, piercing the vertical curtains of glowing green light. Our low altitude of 120 nm meant the auroral curtains rose high above us as we soared through one after another. NASA: This time exposure of the Southern Lights was photographed with a 35mm camera from 115 nautical miles above Earth by the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour during the Space Radar Laboratory 2 (SRL-2) mission. Due to the long exposure time, stars in the background appear smeared or elongated.
For more of my mission information, see www.AstronautTomJones.com