Remembering 9/11: NASA Astronaut's View Of Twin Towers Destruction From International Space Station

Posted: Sep 12 2016, 1:17am CDT | by , Updated: Sep 12 2016, 2:43am CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Remembering 9/11: NASA Astronaut Views Twin Towers Destruction from International Space Station
A smoke plume rises from the Manhattan area where the World Trade Center was destroyed on September 11, 2001. Credit: NASA

Astronaut Frank Culbertson was the only American not on Earth on September 11 terror attacks

On September 11, 2001, NASA astronaut Frank Culbertson was aboard the International Space Station and was the only American who was not on Earth when his country was hit by one of the deadliest terror attacks in history. 

Setting 220 miles above the Earth’s surface in space station, Culbertson had a unique vantage point on the attack. He took some of the most incredible yet devastating images of the incident after two hijacked planes crashed into the Twin Towers standing tall in Manhattan. 

Even from the distance of hundreds of miles, a big cloud of debris spreading out from World Trade Center and covering a borough of New York City was clearly visible in the images. 

“The smoke seemed to have an odd bloom to it at the base of the column that was streaming south of the city. I believe we were looking at NY around the time of, or shortly after, the collapse of the second tower. How horrible...”  Astronaut Frank Culbertson who was aboard ISS at the time of the attacks wrote in a public letter.

Culbertson was not sure exactly what was happening but what he was seeing from above was enough to suggest that something really bad has happened. The astronaut, now 63, describes that he “flabbergasted” and then “horrified” by the terror attacks. 

“Other than the emotional impact of our country being attacked and thousands of our citizens and maybe some friends being killed, the most overwhelming feeling being where I am is one of isolation.”

The space station was flying over the New York City area at the time. Culbertson grabbed his camera and snapped multiple images of 9/11 attack and the city from the space, providing a unique account of the incident from an astronaut’s perspective. 

“The world changed today. What I say or do is very minor compared to the significance of what to our country today when it was attacked.” Astronaut wrote.

He added when he realized the magnitude of the horrific attack. "It's horrible to see smoke pouring from wounds in your own country from such a fantastic vantage point. The dichotomy of being on a spacecraft dedicated to improving life on the earth and watching life being destroyed by such willful, terrible acts is jolting to the psyche, no matter who you are."

The astronaut served as the commander of International Space Station for his 4 month stint in space starting in August 2001. He returned to Earth in December 2001 and announced his retirement few months later. 



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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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