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On Orbit: The ISS and Endeavour Portrait

By H.G. Frautschy, Executive Director - Vintage Aircraft Association, EAA 203490

The unprecedented technological achievement of the now-complete International Space Station and the United States’ Space Shuttle Orbiter program come into sharp focus in this one-of-a-kind portrait of them from Russia’s Soyuz TM-20 spacecraft by Expedition 27 flight engineer Palo Nespoli. Courtesy: NASA

June 9, 2011 — As three decades of NASA’s shuttle program comes to a close, an unprecedented series of photographs was recently snapped by International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 27 crew member Palo Nespoli from Russia’s departing Soyuz TM-20 spacecraft. The photos show the shuttle Endeavour docked for the last time at the station during the shuttle’s final flight into space.

Seeing the ISS and Endeavour floating above the tenuous blue line of the Earth’s atmosphere, one can’t help but reflect on the remarkable achievement by the people who conceived and built both spacecraft. As the last bolt was torqued home during the final spacewalks by a shuttle crew, STS-134 commander Mark Kelly declared, “Space station assembly is complete," concluding a process that began back in 1998 with the launch of the Russian Zarya module. The ISS was first inhabited in early November 2000.

The size of the station is hard to comprehend, even when you know it’s 357.5 feet from end to end along the main truss, with a “wingspread” across it’s solar arrays of 239 feet.  It would cover an entire football field, including the end zones, and weighs nearly 1 million pounds (925,627 pounds at the time of completion). It has more internal volume than a typical five-bedroom home! The ISS is easily the brightest object in the night sky when it passes overhead while on orbit approximately 220 miles above the Earth.

We’re not sure exactly how many EAAers are involved in the Space Shuttle and ISS programs, but based on the conversations we’ve had over the years with many of them, we’d bet it’s quite a few. While the future of U.S. manned space flight is still unclear, creating an unsettled situation for many of you involved in the Space Shuttle Orbiter, the spectacular achievements by you who have worked on the programs can be held up high as the one of the world’s most spectacular technological achievements.

The drive, innovation, and ingenuity that it takes to create and build such technological marvels are the hallmarks of EAAers, and if you’re one of the thousands of engineers, support personnel, or astronauts who have been instrumental in putting the orbiters or ISS into orbit, we salute you. Congratulations!

To view more images of the ISS/Space Shuttle on orbit, click here.

To find out when you can watch the International Space Station pass overhead while on orbit, you can check out NASA’s Sightings Opportunities website by clicking here.


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