On Feb. 19, 2001, my Atlantis crewmates and I obtained this image of the summit caldera of Mauna Loa volcano, called Mokuaweoweo Caldera. NASA writes that “Mauna Loa is the largest volcano on our planet—the summit elevation is 4,170 m (over 13,600 ft), but the volcano’s summit rises 9 km above the sea floor. The sharp features of the summit caldera and lava flows that drain outward from the summit are tribute to the fact that Mauna Loa is one of the Earth’s most active volcanoes. The most recent eruption was in 1984. The straight line the cuts through the center of the crater from top to bottom is a rift zone—an area that pulls apart as magma reaches the surface.”
We found ourselves looking down the throat of Mauna Loa on a winter day, after a recent snow dusted the summit in white. To the left of the summit crater is the volcano’s Southwest Rift Zone; the 1984 eruption occurred on the right side, on the eastern slopes of the mountain above Hilo. The caldera and its solidified lava floor is very similar to the mammoth volcanic summit of Olympus Mons on Mars.
Later in 2001, after all of our post-mission tasks, I spent a good 10 days with my family in Hawaii, one of my favorite spots on Earth. I still plan to make it to the summit we glimpsed from 220 nautical miles up–it’s on my list!
From Atlantis on STS-98 our crew looked back toward sunset over the Mediterranean on Feb. 13, 2001. In the foreground is the Albanian coast, with the island of Corfu partly under clouds at lower left. Across the Otranto Strait at lower right is the heel of the boot of the Italian peninsula. Beyond it lies the Gulf of Taranto, and then the toe of the boot, the Calabria region. Just visible under a sheet of high clouds, across the Strait of Messina, is Sicily, lapped on the left by the golden waters of the Ionian Sea. The Romans called the waters in this view Mare Nostrum, “Our Sea.” From our ship, we could only marvel at Earth’s beauty.
I often use this view in one of my talks, “Seeing Earth in a New Way.”
(posted April 8, 2019)
I put this shot of Everest in my list of photo highlights from STS-98. We used a long, 400mm telephoto lens on a Nikon 35mm camera to capture this straight-down, or nadir, view of the world’s highest mountain (the summit is 8,848 m (29,029 ft) above sea level). Mark Polansky and I woke up in the middle of our sleep period to find Everest and view the majestic Himalayas. North is to upper left, and the summit at center (the apex of three ridges) straddles the Nepalese and Tibetan border, claimed by China. The north face is the triangular, dark slope opening to the upper left from the summit. Strong winds carry blowing snow off the summit to the upper right. The usual climbing route is up the Khumbu glacier on the southwest flank, then up the south ridge to the summit. However, the way to see Everest is like this: in your shirt sleeves, gazing down serenely from 200 nm (370 km).
Halfway through our mission to the International Space Station aboard Atlantis, we captured this westward view of the toe of Italy’s boot and volcanic Sicily floating on a sunlit Mediterranean. The dark summit of active Mt. Etna, 10,912 feet above sea level, peeps through the broken cloud deck over the island of Sicily. Those are the Aeolian Islands “float” on the golden sea north of Sicily; continually erupting Stromboli is the island at lower right in that chain. The Straits of Messina glow in sun glint between mainland Italy and Sicily. Views like this one make the space journey a wonder.
STS098-713-011 (15 February 2001) — An oblique, westerly-looking view over the Strait of Messini (center), which runs between Italy’s “boot” (bottom) and the heavily cloud-covered Sicily (top). The image was recorded with a handheld 70mm camera by one of the STS-98 crew members aboard the Earth-orbiting Space Shuttle Atlantis. Parts of the Tyrrhenian Sea (right center), Ionian Sea (lower right) and the Mediterranean Sea (left) are covered in the picture.
Space shuttle Atlantis carried my astronaut crew to the International Space Station on mission STS-98, from Feb. 7-20, 2001. With our suite of cameras, the five of us spent every minute we could crowding the orbiter’s windows to drink in the view of our home planet. Here are some examples:
Here is our sweeping shot of one of America’s magnificent national parks, the Grand Canyon. As we looked south from over Utah, we viewed the north rim nearest us (center left with long, snow-covered meadow) and the snow-dusted south rim with its visitor center directly across the wide canyon. The San Francisco volcanic field near Flagstaff is at top left. Lake Meade is at the far right center edge of the photo, while Lake Powell, upstream, is at the left center edge.
NASA’s caption states: Demonstrating the power of water erosion, this orbital view photographed by the crew of Atlantis during STS-98 on February 16, 2001, as the spacecraft orbited the earth at an altitude of 173 nautical miles (320 kilometers), shows Lake Powell at the headwaters of the Colorado River in southwestern Utah. The river over eons has carved out Arizona’s mile deep and 270 mile long Grand Canyon. Prominent in this scene is the Kaibab Plateau at the head of the canyon where the big bend of the Colorado River has eroded the plateau into a peninsula. This plateau, directly across the canyon from the South Rim Visitor’s Center, is at the widest part of the canyon, about 12 miles. The Kaibab Indian Reservation and the Kaibab National Forest are visible in the picture. (STS098-714A-049 — 16 February 2001)
I’ve taken a couple of raft trips down the Canyon, and they have to be a couple of the best camping trips of my life. Though only six million years old, the Canyon is a stupendous place to hike, camp, raft the white water, and drink in the view of a vividly painted geological laboratory.
Molokai, Lanai, and Maui seen from STS-98 (NASA STS098-714A-078). This image of three of my favorite Hawaiian islands is from a frame of IMAX film, shot for the movie “Space Station 3D”. You get a rough idea of what our 50th state looks like from the space station altitude of roughly 240 nautical miles.
Maui, on the right, is composed of two volcanoes joined in the middle. Heavily eroded West Maui volcano looks across Lahaina Roads to Molokai, and the dormant Haleakala (last eruption a couple of hundred years ago) dominates the island’s east flank, with the summit at 10,023 feet.