ISS: Sample imagery
ISS Utilization: Some samples of imagery taken by astronauts from the ISS
This file is a loose collection of some recent samples of imagery taken by astronauts off and from the ISS.
• The arrival of the WORF (Window Observational Research Facility) has allowed astronauts to permanently remove a protective, non-optical “scratch pane” on the window, which had often blurred images. The WORF also provides a highly stable mounting platform to hold cameras and sensors steady, while offering power, command, data, and cooling connections. With the WORF, the high-quality optics of the nadir viewing window—looking “straight down” towards the Earth—are now fully utilized for the first time since Destiny was launched in 2001. 1)
The WORF was delivered to the ISS in April 2010 on the STS-131 mission of Space Shuttle Discovery. It was installed and prepped on the Destiny Laboratory during 2010, and includes the highest quality optics ever flown on a human-occupied spacecraft.
Figure 1: Photo of the ISS Destiny Laboratory taken on Feb. 20, 2010 showing the location of the WORF window (image credit: NASA)
• January 1, 2013: A Sleeping Giant (Figure 2), the Beauty and Threat of Vesuvius. A nearly vertical look onto Italy's Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that blew its top in 79 AD in the most famous volcanic eruption in recorded history. About 16,000 people lost their lives that day due to pyroclastic flow—searing hot ash blasting outward from the stratovolcano’s maw. 2)
The volcano has erupted many times since then, including in the 20th century. Mount Vesuvius is still active. By taking another look at Figure 2 and the volcano's surrounding settlements, and the city of Naples just a few km away — it is mind blowing! More than half a million people live in the volcano’s red zone—where destruction from a big eruption would be swift and brutal.
Figure 2: Photo of Mount Vesuvius acquired by astronaut Chris Hadfield from the cupola of the ISS on January 1, 2013 (image credit: NASA/JSC)
• Astronauts aboard the ISS photographed these striking views of Pavlof Volcano in Alaska on May 18, 2013 (Figure 3). The oblique perspective from the ISS reveals the three dimensional structure of the ash plume, which is often obscured by the top-down view of most remote sensing satellites. 3)
Located in the Aleutian Arc about 1000 km southwest of Anchorage, Pavlof began erupting on May 13, 2013. The volcano jetted lava into the air and spewed an ash cloud 6,000 m high. When the photograph (ISS036-E-2105) was taken, the space station was about 770 km south-southeast of the volcano (49.1° North latitude, 157.4° West longitude). The volcanic plume extended southeastward over the North Pacific Ocean.
Figure 3: The Pavlof volcano observed by the ISS on May 18, 2013 with a Nikon D3S digital camera (image credit: NASA)
Legend to Figure 4: This image shows the limb of Earth near the bottom transitioning into the orange-colored troposphere, the lowest and most dense portion of the Earth's atmosphere. The troposphere ends abruptly at the tropopause, which appears in the image as the sharp boundary between the orange- and blue- colored atmosphere. The silvery-blue noctilucent clouds extend far above the Earth's troposphere.
• June 2013: From the vantage point of the International Space Station, astronauts frequently observe atmospheric and surface phenomena in ways that are impossible to view from the ground. Two such phenomena—gravity waves and sunglint—are illustrated in this photograph (Figure 5) of northeastern Lake Superior. 5)
Figure 5: Gravity Waves and Sunglint Accent Lake Superior; the image was acquired on June 24, 2013 with a Nikon D3S digital camera (image credit: NASA)
Legend to Figure 5: At the top of the image, the Canadian Shield of southern Ontario is covered by an extensive forest canopy typical of early summer. Offshore and to the west and southwest of Pukaskwa National Park, several distinct sets of parallel cloud bands are visible. Gravity waves are produced when moisture-laden air encounters imbalances in air density, such as might be expected when cool air flows over warmer air. This can cause the flowing air to oscillate up and down as it moves, causing clouds to condense as the air rises and cools and to evaporate away as the air sinks and warms. This produces parallel bands of clouds oriented perpendicular to the wind direction. The orientation of the cloud bands in this image, parallel to the coastlines, suggests that air flowing off of the land surfaces to the north is interacting with moist, stable air over the lake surface, creating gravity waves.
The second phenomenon—sunglint—affects the water surface around and to the northeast of Isle Royale. Sunglint is caused by light reflection off a water surface; some of the reflected light travels directly back towards the observer, resulting in a bright mirror-like appearance over large expanses of water. Water currents and changes in surface tension—typically caused by presence of oils or surfactants—alter the reflective properties of the water and can be highlighted by sunglint. For example, surface water currents are visible to the east of Isle Royale that are oriented similarly to the gravity waves, suggesting that they too are the product of winds moving off of the land surface.
• July 2013: Early morning lightning storms, inland of LA and San Diego, as seen from the ISS. 6)
Figure 6: Astronaut image of thunderstorms over southern California acquired on July 21, 2013 (image credit: NASA)
Legend to Figure 6: Astronaut Karen Nyberg shot this image, showing the view from the International Space Station on July 21, 2013 with thunderstorms brewing over Los Angeles and San Diego, California. City lights are peering through the clouds, while lightning brightens the dark storm clouds. A solar array from a Russian spacecraft, docked to the ISS, appears at the bottom of the image.
• The photograph of Figure 7 from the International Space Station highlights a late-summer “whiting event” visible across much of Lake Ontario (one of North America’s Great Lakes). Such events commonly occur in late summer and are caused by changes in water temperature, which allows fine particles of calcium carbonate to form in the water column. Increased photosynthesis by phytoplankton and other microscopic marine life can also reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the water column, changing the acidity and allowing calcium carbonate to form. These particles of calcium carbonate cause the characteristic lightening (“whiting”) of the water color observed. 7)
Figure 7: Whiting event on Lake Ontario in August 2013 (image credit: NASA)
Legend to Figure 7: Astronaut photograph ISS036-E-35635 was acquired on August 24, 2013, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 50 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center.
• Sept. 05, 2013 (UTC): One of the Expedition 36 crew members aboard the International Space Station took this picture (Figure 8) of the Japanese HTV-4 (H-II Transfer Vehicle-4) unmanned cargo spacecraft, backdropped against a land mass on Earth, following its unberthing but just prior to its release from the orbital outpost's Canadarm2. HTV-4, after backing away from the flying complex, headed for re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, burning upon re-entry. HTV-4 was launched by Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on Aug. 4, 2013 in order to bring up supplies for the astronauts and cosmonauts onboard the station. 8)
Figure 8: Canadarm2 prepares to release HTV-4 (image credit: NASA/JSC)
On Sept. 5, 2013, the HTV-4/Kounotori-4 left the ISS and reentered the atmosphere on Sept. 7 at an altitude of 120 km - completing its cargo resupply mission (destructive reentry into the Pacific Ocean). 9)
• The photograph of Figure 9 was taken from onboard the International Space Station showing a nighttime Paris and London. The image was provided by ESA on October 18, 2013. ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano posted this image on his Twitter account.
Figure 9: London and Paris brighten up a European night (image credit: ESA)
• The Long Island Sound (USA) is well outlined by city and roadway lights in this nighttime photograph taken from the International Space Station. The manmade traceries of light are accompanied by a natural phenomenon: Fog is visible stretching along several river valleys. - Long Island Sound is an estuary along the upper East Coast of the United States. The area is bound by Long Island (New York state) to the south, the coastline of Connecticut to the north and the southeasternmost coastline of New York to the west. 10)
Figure 10: Fog appearing light blue-gray (image upper left) is illuminated from above by moonlight and from below by cities and towns close to river channels in this Sept. 20, 2013, astronaut photo of the Long Island Sound region (image credit: NASA)
• Valencia, Spain (Figure 11) as seen by an astronaut from the ISS on October 6, 2013, and released on December 18, 2013. This incredibly sharp image shows the grid-like streets of Valencia surrounding the older, less-structured, center. The ‘claw’ extending to the top is the port of Valencia that serves as a breakwater as well as a platform to offload ships. 11)
Lights of a ship that is either leaving or arriving at the port can be seen. The blackness to the top left of this image is the Mediterranean Sea where no streetlights exist. Other areas of blackness are parks and countryside, places where humans have not settled and installed artificial lights. The bright blue lights to the bottom of the image are from Valencia’s airport and industrial sites.
Figure 11: Human spaceflight and operations image of the week: the port of Valencia, Spain, seen from the ISS at night (image credit: ESA, NASA)
• The Salt Lake City metropolitan area (Figure 12) is located along the western front of the Wasatch Range in northern Utah. The city is known as “the crossroads of the West,” as the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (known informally as the Mormon Church), and as the state capital of Utah. Salt Lake City was founded in 1847 by Brigham Young, together with other followers of the Mormon faith. The city and surrounding urban areas is home to more than 2 million people, approximately 80 percent of the population of the state. 12)
Viewed at night from the vantage point of the International Space Station, the regular north-south and east-west layout of street grids typical of western U.S. cities is clearly visible. Both the color of the city lights and their density provide clues to the character of the urban fabric. Yellow-gold lights generally indicate major roadways, such as Interstate Highway 15, which passes through the center of the metropolitan area. Bright white clusters are associated with city centers, and commercial and industrial areas. Residential and suburban areas are recognizable as diffuse and relatively dim lighting.
Figure 12: Astronaut photo of Salt Lake City, acquired on Dec. 12, 2013, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using an effective 600 millimeter lens (image credit: NASA/JSC)
• The Cygnus CRS-1 (Cargo Resupply Mission-1), or Cygnus CRS Orb-1, also known as Orbital Sciences CRS Flight 1, is the second flight of the Orbital Sciences' unmanned resupply spacecraft Cygnus, its second flight to the ISS (International Space Station) and the third launch of the company's Antares launch vehicle. The flight is the first of 8 under the CRS (Commercial Resupply Services) contract to NASA and is also referred to as COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services).
The Cygnus Orb-1 mission was launched on January 9, 2014 on an Antares-120 Vehicle of OSC from MARS (Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport), Wallops Island, VA.
The cargo craft was loaded with 1261 kg supplies for the station, including vital science experiments to expand the research capability of the Expedition 38 crew members aboard the orbiting laboratory, crew provisions, spare parts and experiment hardware. - Also aboard the flight are 23 student experiments that will involve more than 10,000 students on the ground. These experiments will involve life sciences topics ranging from amoeba reproduction to calcium in the bones to salamanders.
The secondary payloads (34 CubeSats, commercial payloads of Orbital Sciences) on the Cygnus CRS-1 mission were:
- ArduSat-2, a 2U CubeSat (2 kg), a crowd-funded project of NanoSatisfi LLC.
- LituanicaSAT-1, a CubeSat of KTU (Kaunas University of Technology), Kaunas, Lithuania.
- LitSat-1, a 1U CubeSat of LSF (Lithuanian Space Federation).
- SkyCube, a 1U CubeSat, a crowd-funded project of Southern Stars Group LLC, San Francisco, CA, USA.
- UAPSat-1, a 1U CubeSat of UAP (Universidad Alas Peruanas), built by INRAS-PUCP (Institute for Radio Astronomy of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú), Lima, Peru.
- Flock-1 fleet of 28 satellites (all 3U CubeSats) of Planet Lays Inc. of San Francisco, CA. Flock 1 is designed to deliver frequent, low-cost and high-resolution imagery of the planet that could help monitor deforestation, track natural disasters and benefit humanity in a number of other ways. All Flock-1 nanosatellites provide imagery with a resolution of 3-5 m.
All CubeSats will be using the NanoRacks deployer system on the ISS. They are deployed using the J-SSOD ( JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer).
The Cygnus CRS Orb-1 spacecraft arrived at the ISS on Jan. 12, 2013 when astronauts captured the Cygnus supply craft using a robotic arm. The arrival capped the first successful contracted cargo delivery by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, VA, for NASA. 13)
Cygnus will remain attached to Harmony until a planned unberthing in February sends the spacecraft toward a destructive reentry into Earth's atmosphere.
Figure 13: ISS Astronauts grapple Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft with the robotic arm and guide it to docking port on Jan. 12, 2014 (image credit: NASA TV)
• February 2014: Three months after bearing the Olympic torch outside their orbiting home, the astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station (ISS) got to look down on that flame from above. On the evening of February 10, 2014, an Expedition 38 crew member on the ISS captured this digital photograph of Sochi, Russia, along the coast of the Black Sea (Figure 14). 14)
Figure 14: Sochi at night as photographed from the ISS (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory,, the image was released on Feb. 17, 2014)
Legend to Figure 14: Astronaut photograph ISS038-E-42992 was acquired on February 10, 2014, with a Nikon digital camera using a 600 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 the Expedition 38 crew.
In the image, the Olympic flame now burns in the circular Medals Plaza, ringed in gold and bright white lighting in the center of the Olympic Park. The oval-shaped Fisht Olympic Stadium is lit in blue and stands near the shore to the south (south is to the right in the image). The Adler Arena Skating Center and the Iceberg Skating Palace both appear as black rectangles north and east of the Medals Plaza, and the Bolshoy Ice Dome has a pink tint and stands to the west.
Sochi is a city of nearly 340,000 people in Krasnodar Krai, Russia, near the border between Georgia and Russia. Warmed by the Black Sea and straddling the continents of Europe and Asia, the resort city has a subtropical climate that draws many tourists. It is one of the warmer locations ever chosen for the Winter Games. However, snow coats the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains just 40 km inland.
• Feb. 24, 2014: Flying over East Asia, astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) took this night image of the Korean Peninsula. Unlike daylight images, city lights at night illustrate dramatically the relative economic importance of cities, as gaged by relative size. In this north-looking view, it is immediately obvious that greater Seoul is a major city and that the port of Gunsan is minor by comparison. There are 25.6 million people in the Seoul metropolitan area—more than half of South Korea’s citizens—while Gunsan’s population is 280,000. 15)
Figure 15: The Koreas at Night photographed from the ISS on Jan. 30, 2014 (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory,,the image was released on Feb. 24, 2014)
Legend to Figure 15: North Korea is almost completely dark compared to neighboring South Korea and China. The darkened land appears as if it were a patch of water joining the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan. Its capital city, Pyongyang, appears like a small island, despite a population of 3.26 million (as of 2008). The light emission from Pyongyang is equivalent to the smaller towns in South Korea.
Coastlines are often very apparent in night imagery, as shown by South Korea’s eastern shoreline. But the coast of North Korea is difficult to detect. These differences are illustrated in per capita power consumption in the two countries, with South Korea at 10,162 kW hours and North Korea at 739 kW hours.
The Astronaut photograph ISS038-E-38300 was acquired on January 30, 2014, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 24 mm lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center.
• The image of Figure 16, Iberian Peninsula, is from the “week in images” March 3-7, 2014. The lights from human settlements reveal where the major towns and activity are. The large mass of light in the middle is Madrid, Spain’s capital city. The Iberian coastline is heavily populated with Valencia and Barcelona along the Mediterranean Sea prominent at the bottom right of this photo. Portugal to the west shows similar lighting with the coast from Lisboa to Porto a haze of light. 16)
Figure 16: This image from the International Space Station shows the Iberian Peninsula including Spain and Portugal at night (image credit: ESA, NASA)
Legend to Figure 16: The astronaut-image taken from 400 km above Earth shows how close the Iberian Peninsula is to Morocco. A thin line of blackness – the Strait of Gibraltar – separates the two. Another thin line stands out in this picture – Earth’s atmosphere, the green shroud that surrounds and protects our world and the people and animals that live on it.
• On March 11, 2014, ESA released a snapshot (Figure 17) taken from the Cupola of the ISS of ESA's EAC (European Astronaut Center), collocated at the DLR German Aerospace Center site at Cologne-Bonn. 17)
Figure 17: An astronaut image acquired on March 4, 2014 showing the Rhine river winding towards Cologne on the left and ESA's EAC located at DLR's site below the Cologne-Bonn Airport (image credit: NASA)
1) Mario Runco, Susan Runco, William L. Stefanov, and Brion Au, Robert Simon, “We Can See Clearly Now: ISS Window Observational Research Facility,” NASA Earth Observatory, URL: http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/EarthObservatory/WORF_EarthKAM_1st.htm
2) “Gallery: Astronaut Chris Hadfield’s Top 15 Pictures (and One Video) From Space,” URL: http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2013/05/13/photo-gallery_astronaut_chris_hadfield_s_top_15_pictures_from_space.html
3) “Pavlof Volcano, Alaska Peninsula,” NASA Earth Observatory, May 23, 2013, URL: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=81205
4) “The Moon Over Earth (NASA, International Space Station),” NASA, URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nasamarshall/9085751655/
5) “Gravity Waves and Sunglint, Lake Superior,” NASA, July 22, 2013, URL: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=81650
6) Nancy Atkinson, “Pretty Picture from Space: Thunderstorms Over Southern California,” Universe Today, July 25, 2013, URL: http://www.universetoday.com/103713/pretty-picture-from-space-thunderstorms-over-southern-california/
7) “Whiting Event, Lake Ontario,” NASA Earth Observatory, Sept. 3, 2013, URL: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=81952
8) “Canadarm2 Prepares to Release HTV-4,” NASA/JSC, URL: http://www.nasa.gov/content/canadarm2-prepares-to-release-htv-4-0/#.Uswg-_uFf_o
9) “Successful re-entry of H-II Transfer Vehicle “KOUNOTORI4” (HTV4),” JAXA Press release, Sept. 7, 2013, URL: http://www.jaxa.jp/press/2013/09/20130907_kounotori4_e.html
10) “Glowing Fog Accompanies Bright City Lights,” Earth Imaging Journal, Oct. 23, 2013, URL: http://eijournal.com/showcase-articles/glowing-fog-accompanies-bright-city-lights?utm_source=EIX+Subscribers&utm_campaign=a0b0d2f31c-Group_310_23_2013&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c3b89c5df8-a0b0d2f31c-235204457
12) “Salt Lake City at Night,” NASA Earth Observatory, Jan. 06, 2014, URL: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=82752
13) Trent J. Perrotto, Josh Byerly, “New NASA Science Arrives at Space Station Aboard Orbital Sciences Cygnus Spacecraft,” NASA Release, 14-013, Jan. 12, 2013, URL: http://www.nasa.gov/press/2014/january/new-nasa-science-arrives-at-space-station-aboard-orbital-sciences-cygnus/#.UtKhuvuFf_o
14) “Sochi at Night,” NASA Earth Observatory, Feb. 17, 2014, URL: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=83149
15) “The Koreas at Night,” NASA Earth Observatory, Feb. 24, 2014, URL: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=83182
16) “Week in Images,” ESA, March 7, 2014, URL: http://www.esa.int/Highlights/Week_In_Images_03_07_March_2014
17) “EAC from Space Station,” ESA “image of the week” , March 11, 2014, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2014/03/EAC_from_Space_Station
The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates.