Viewing a Spacecraft Launch from Space

Viewing a Spacecraft Launch from Space

On December 6, 2015, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) were awaiting the launch of the Cygnus Commercial Resupply Services spacecraft. Cygnus was lofted into space by an Atlas V rocket, with engines that fire for about 18 minutes. This photograph was taken 4 minutes 12 seconds after launch as the crew looked southwest into the dusk sky.

Using a powerful lens, an astronaut captured the spacecraft with the Atlas engines still firing and long tendrils of exhaust trailing back toward Cape Canaveral in Florida. The spacecraft is a tiny object and would otherwise have been invisible to the crew. This photo of the launch was snapped when the ISS was far to the north-northeast over the Atlantic Ocean, just east of Newfoundland.

Sixty-one hours after the launch, Cygnus arrived at the ISS and an astronaut took a close-up image of the resupply ship about to be captured by the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Cygnus ferried various cargo to the orbiting crew, including science investigations, crew supplies, computer resources, hardware for the ISS, and spacewalk equipment—in all totaling 3513 kilograms (7,745 pounds).

Images of spacecraft taken from other spacecraft are always interesting. Astronauts need to know exactly where each spacecraft will be in space and at which precise moment in order to acquire such photographs. You can see another example in this image of the space shuttle Atlantis (STS-135) re-entering the atmosphere in a fiery plasma, as viewed from the ISS.

Astronaut photograph ISS045-E-168055 was acquired on December 6, 2015, with a Nikon D4 digital camera using an 1150 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 45 crew. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by M. Justin Wilkinson, Texas State U., Jacobs Contract at NASA-JSC.