Shuttle Launch as seen from ISS somewhere high:

It looks like it's not very high up, doesn't it? That's because it's not.

We've been only to low Earth orbit since 1972, and from that altitude of 220 miles, looking at the Earth is like peering at a basketball with your cheek pressed against it. We've spent 32 years "exploring space" in low Earth orbit. Exploring nothing.

Update: Probably not actually from ISS, possibly from a high flying plane, but nobody has yet pointed to the actual source of these photos.

We're still peering at the basketball, though.

Update 2: Possible source. WB-57 chase plane.


46 Responses:

  1. matrushkaka says:

    Wow. Had no idea one could see the shuttle launch from space.

  2. gfish says:

    LEO is only close if you're thinking in terms of distance. In terms of energy needed to get there -- which is the important metric for space travel -- LEO is literally halfway to anywhere.

      • rly says:

        That's going to be my comeback for everything from now on.

        Nineteen seventy-two. Nineteen. Seventy. Two.

      • gfish says:

        I certainly won't defend that -- but I'd rather see continuous occupation of LEO than spend 100 billion on a repeat of Apollo. Exploring is great and all, but if we don't stay once we get there then it's just a stunt.

        • charles says:

          I've always kinda agreed with Maciej's take:

          In the thirty years since the last Moon flight, we have succeeded in creating a perfectly self-contained manned space program, in which the Shuttle goes up to save the Space Station (undermanned, incomplete, breaking down, filled with garbage, and dropping at a hundred meters per day), and the Space Station offers the Shuttle a mission and a destination.

  3. cobrabytez says:

    So the moon landing in the 60's was a hoax right?

    • shagg says:

      By "We've been only to low Earth orbit since 1972" they're referring to the fact that since then we have not gone any further than that, since the last Apollo moon mission was in 1972.

      We first went into orbit in 1962 with the Mercury program.

  4. relaxing says:

    "No plonking zone."
    That thread is a true lj-classic.

  5. jayrtfm says:

    This isn't from the ISS, most likely it's from the NASA WB-57F Ascent Video Experiment airplane, which flies at about 60K feet.

    • nibot says:

      The photos from ISS do appear to be from a lot higher up, eg:

    • capo_mojo says:

      The WB-57 is a kick ass plane. The pilots have to wear, basically, spacesuits because the plane flies so high. They drive out to the plane in one of those retro NASA RV's and carry their portable a/c units like briefcases. I got to put an experimental widget on one last summer and everyone involved in that program was amazingly cool. The planes were originally made in England, and hastily retrofitted for high altitude work in the US after the U2/Gary Powers incident (apparently).

      More info on these planes here:

      • jkonrath says:

        NASA's WB-57s weren't built in England, though - Martin out in Santa Ana, California licensed the design, just before they merged with Marietta. Canberras built in the US have the wingtip tanks and two crew members instead of three.

        Either way, the Canberras were really weird planes. They were designed at the end of WW2, but got the bulk of their use up to about the middle of Vietnam. Some were still being used for nuclear weapon deployment when others were being retrofitted as tow targets. The US unloaded a bunch of them on Pakistan in the late 50s, and they flew them until they were replaced by F-16s in the mid-80s. The UK sold some to Argentina in the 70s, and ended up having them used against them in the Falklands. And the RAF's last Canberra squadron just disbanded last summer.

  6. c0nsumer says:

    I think those originated with me. I posted them a few days ago and they went around and Digg. Slightly higher res versions are available here and here.

    My understanding is that the photos are of STS-115.

  7. decibel45 says:

    Anyone have an actual NASA link for this?

    Why do I doubt this? The biggest reason is that every launch to the ISS (The date on the photo places this as STS115, which was a flight to the ISS) I've ever seen occured when the ISS was 1/2 way around the world.

    The orbiter always launches into the orbital plane of the ISS. That means that if the ISS were to see a shuttle towards it, that's pretty much what it would look like... the shuttle launching right at it, not off at a right-angle.

    The curvature of the earth is just barely visible. From 220 miles up, the curvature is very pronounced. This leads me to believe that this photo was in fact taken from one of the WB57 aircraft that have been taking video of launches since STS114.

  8. rapier1 says:

    Seems to me that even from such a paltry height of 220 miles the first step would be a doozy.

    I'm a huge fan of space exploration but really, there isn't much in the way of profit motive just as of yet. Once you get the profit motive then things will take off but until we figure out how to really exploit higher orbits and trans orbital distances we won't be going anywhere. That whole Age of Exploration thing? It was all about the money. Investors could make stupid amounts of money as long as a single bottom out of a flotilla of 6 made it back from India or Cathay. Right now manned exploration doesn't have much in the way of a compelling return on the investment.

    As someone who does pure research for a living I'm all for throwing money at things without much interest in profit - but the rest of the world doesn't work that way - which is good otherwise there wouldn't be enough free capital to allow people like me to get paid to poke at shit and seeing what shakes out.

    • korgmeister says:

      Yeah, I don't think we're going to see dick in serious space exploration until someone figures out a way to make a buck from it. Which is why I'm glad that Richard Branson is trying.

      • rapier1 says:

        It really is all about money and always has been. The neat thing? Once we figure out how to get into space in an industrial capacity we still need to figure out if the ROI for space based industries is worth it. There are compelling arguments that due to the vagrities of orbital mechanics the profit is always going to be thin. N millions tons of processed space metals aren't as attractive if you have to keep your capital tied up in them for 6 years while they drift through space back to earth (or whatever end point they require).

        • korgmeister says:

          I personally reckon until it's legal for people to go and put flags on NEOs and go "This is mine!" we're not going to see much happening.

          I'm aware of the (boundless) potential for abuse and disputes, but we really need an incentive for private space exploration better than the crappy "Privatise NASA" type ideas.

  9. enigmania says:

    But we *have* been exploring space. There's information pouring in from all sorts of satellites and observatories and probes and rovers. While I can appreciate the romance of humans in space, it's a hell of lot of extra expense and risk that doesn't proportionately gain understanding compared to robots in space. In my book, "we" includes our robots.

    • carbonunit says:

      Yes, but until living meat bodies get shipped to the destination and back, it's impossible for fanboys to fantasise about their own meat bodies getting shipped to Mars or Titan and back. And that's what we're talking about here, that quote was from James Cameron, a filmmaker.

      Don't worry, as soon as it's possible for a space probe to be smarter than a human it's a moot point anyway.

      • tjic says:

        until living meat bodies get shipped to the destination and back, it's impossible for fanboys to fantasise about their own meat bodies getting shipped to Mars or Titan

        It'll be so great, someday, when science fiction is invented, and we can all fantasize about things like that for the first time ever.

      • strontium90 says:

        Yes, but until living meat bodies get shipped to the destination and back, it's impossible for fanboys to fantasise about their own meat bodies getting shipped to Mars or Titan and back.

        You're close. It's not about them having the fantasies; it's about them getting to live them. We were promised electric flying cars and a condo on Olympus Mons, and now nothing short of electric flying cars aqnd a condo on Olympus Mons will do, goddammit. Forget that all the science in the world can't make Amtrack run in the black, let alone figure out how to make something that was probably too extravagant for us to have done as many times as we did a routine event.

        Once again, many thanks to the Baby Boomers for passing along their greatest legacies to this country: an incessant need for wish fulfilment, an unquenchable feeling of entitlement, and a nine trillion dollar national debt.

    • taiganaut says:

      See the furry thread in the linked post.

  10. tiff_seattle says:

    Holy shit that is an awesome picture :)

  11. taiganaut says:

    I enjoyed the furry thread. Point and laff!

  12. usufructer says:

    Why weren't you at the X Prize Cup?

    • bobshuttle says:

      Yeah, those guys took them from a WB-71, which "chases" the Shuttle with a camera on board.

      I'm on the L2 section of and it freaking rules. They've got a two hour video on Atlantis re-entry on the last mission, with never seen before plamsa and fire of re-entry and all the chat on board (and loads of jokes). Best video ever if you're into space and shuttles etc.

      There's a free clip too for those that just want to see some of it.

      "Stunning video, taken by STS-115 astronaut Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper during Atlantis' re-entry and landing last month, has been acquired, showing what it is like to ride on board an orbiter during re-entry.
      The two hour video shows camcorder footage from before the de-orbit burn, all the way through to post landing checks."

      The two hour video is on the superb L2 section, but there's a free clip on this link too:

  13. airstrip_one says:

    We've been only to low Earth orbit since 1972, and from that altitude of 220 miles, looking at the Earth is like peering at a basketball with your cheek pressed against it. We've spent 32 years "exploring space" in low Earth orbit. Exploring nothing.

    I assume you mean manned exploration? Well, it is certainly possible to send a man million or ten million kilometers further, but what would exactly be the point? To have a different view from the porthole? Space there is as empty as it is closer to Earth.

    • jwz says:

      I hate you because you don't bother READING WHAT'S AT THE OTHER END OF THE LINKS.

      Jesus Christ.

      • rapier1 says:

        Well, even if he did read the Cameron qute it really doesn't change anything. All Cameron is talking about is standing on some hunk of rock and looking at shit. That, in and of itself, really does and means nothing. Its like all that shit about the Vikings and the Chinese getting to the Americas before Columbus. They got here and they left and the biggest impact they had were some stone anchors and a few sod buildings. Big deal. Exploration means *nothing* without the ability and will to back it up with proper exploitation. The moon landings - because there are no economical means to exploit the moon - are the scientific equivilant of dick waving (which explains a lot about the Chinese push right now). Like the man said "No bucks, no Buck Rodgers"

        The biggest advance in manned space exploration is going to come when we figure out how to make the money work. Until then, we'll be staying right here.