Sunday, September 11, 2016

9/11 Images from Space

                  Three images from Space, of the 9/11 Attacks on Manhattan,
                  followed by a description of the view from the International Space Station.
International Space Station image of Manhattan and vicinity shortly after the terrorist attacks on the
World Trade Center Towers on 2001 September 11. (Image source: NASA) View of Manhattan from NASA's Terra satellite, showing a large stream of smoke from Ground Zero.
(Image Sources: NASA, Liam Gumley, MODIS Atmosphere Group, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison)
A day after the attack, on 2001 September 12 at approx. 11:30 a.m. EDT / 15:30 UTC, smoke can
still be seen rising from Ground Zero, in this view from the U.S. Geological Survey satellite
Landsat 7. (Image Source: USGS Landsat 7 team at the EROS Data Center)

By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

At the time of the 9/11 attacks, Astronaut Frank L. Culbertson, Jr. (Captain, U.S. Navy, now retired), was Commander of Expedition 3 on the International Space Station. He was the only American in space at that time.

After learning of the attacks, he and his crew took many photographs and videos, from Earth orbit, of the aftermath of the attacks. He also wrote a public letter and created a video, both explaining what he and his crew did that day. Links to that letter and video are at the end of this blog-post.

Captain Culbertson was accompanied on Expedition 3 by two Russian cosmonauts, Flight Engineers Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin. They had been in space for exactly 30 days, after a delay in launch of a few weeks, before the events of 9/11 occurred.

Fifteen years ago, at 8:46 a.m. Eastern Daylight Saving Time (EDT) / 12:46 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) (the time of the posting of this blog-post) on Tuesday Morning, 2001 September 11, the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City occurred. In this first attack, five Al-Qaeda terrorists flew the hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 into the northern facade of One World Trade Center (North Tower).

At 9:03 a.m. EDT / 13:03 UTC, five more hijackers flew United Airlines Flight 175 into the southern facade of Two World Trade Center (South Tower). Five more hijackers flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. EDT / 13:37 UTC.

At 10:03 a.m. EDT / 14:03 UTC, United Airlines Flight 93, which had been commandeered by four hijackers, crashed in a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, near the small town of Shanksville, about 65 miles / 105 kilometers southeast of Pittsburgh. When the passengers attempted to regain control of the aircraft, the hijackers intentionally crashed the plane in Western Pennsylvania, rather than continuing to their original target. Although news of this hijacked aircraft had resulted in the mass evacuation of Downtown Pittsburgh, it is now believed that the hijackers' plan was to crash this plane into either the Capitol or the White House in Washington.

At that time, without the ability to receive standard radio or television broadcasts, or regular access to the Internet, the International Space Station crew had no idea of what was happening in New York City, Washington, or Shanksville until Captain Culbertson made a routine contact with ground control, regarding results of basic medical tests of the crew members, on the morning of 9/11. As Captain Culbertson was speaking to Flight Surgeon Steve Hart on the ground at about 10:00 a.m. EDT / 14:00 UTC, Dr. Hart mentioned that they had just lost contact with a fourth airplane over Pennsylvania.

After checking the International Space Station's location on a nearby lap-top computer, Captain Culbertson realized that they would soon be flying over New England, where they could get a view of New York City, since it was “such a perfect weather day all over the United States.” After quickly finding a video camera, he started shooting video, from a window in the Russian segment of the Station, of Manhattan from above Maine, about 400 miles away.

The only thing he could see, which appears on the video he shot, was a big black column of smoke coming from New York City, over Long Island and over the Atlantic Ocean. But, when zooming-in with the camera, he saw a big gray blob enveloping Lower Manhattan. He later learned that the big gray blob had been caused by the collapse of the second World Trade Center tower.

After several seconds, New York City was beyond the spacecraft's horizon. He then knew they had 90 minutes to set-up additional cameras for the next pass over the Eastern United States, which would allow more videography of the situation.

Captain Culbertson, along with the two Russian flight engineers, manned cameras over the next pass. On this pass, the International Space Station flew further south, so they took pictures of a large part of the country while looking for additional attacks, along with additional images of the New York area. They did fly directly over the Pentagon, and Captain Culbertson said he could see the gash in the building.

Within about two orbits of the International Space Station after the attacks, Captain Culbertson said that all the airplane contrails that can normally be seen criss-crossing the country were gone. By this time, the Federal Government had ordered all commercial and private aircraft grounded, indefinitely. He said the only contrail that could be seen, flying from the central part of the United States to Washington, was that of Air Force One with the President of the United States on-board.

At that time of great uncertainty, many critical Federal facilities were moved to undisclosed locations, for security purposes. Houston's Johnson Space Center Mission Control was also moved to an undisclosed location, according to Captain Culbertson. So, for a while, most of the information sent to the International Space Station came from Moscow.

The next day, Captain Culbertson learned that a fellow classmate from the U.S. Naval Academy, Chic Burlingame, was the captain of the American Airlines jet aircraft that hit the Pentagon. From a letter he wrote on 2001 September 12, Captain Culbertson said, “I can't imagine what he must of gone through, and now I hear that he may have risen further than we can even think of by possibly preventing his plane from being the one to attack the White House. What a terrible loss, but I'm sure Chic was fighting bravely to the end.”

Internet Links to Additional Information ---

YouTube Videos of NASA Astronaut Frank Culbertson explaining his view of the 9/11 tragedy from the International Space Station ---
Link (1 min.) >>>
Link (10 min.) >>>

Letters from NASA Astronaut Frank Culbertson explaining his view of the 9/11 tragedy from the International Space Station:
Link >>>

Retired NASA Astronaut Frank L. Culbertson, Jr. (Captain, U.S. Navy, now retired):
Link >>>

2001 September 11 Attacks: Link >>>

Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.
             2016 Sept. 11.

                                                               Historic 10-inch Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope at Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science.
        2016: 75th Year of Pittsburgh's Buhl Planetarium Observatory
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