Although this is its last mission to the space station, shuttle Endeavour has just made a first in space history: it is the first shuttle ever to be photographed from another space vehicle while docked with the International Space Station (ISS).
This amazing photo opportunity came today as the Soyuz TMA-20, carrying the Expedition 27 crew, undocked and backed off 600 meters from the space station. Italian/ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli then took a series of photographs and high-definition video of the space station (plus mated shuttle) as the complex slowly rotated 130 degrees.
Expedition 27 — comprised of Nespoli, Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev and NASA Flight Engineer Cady Coleman — is now preparing for reentry this evening, when the digital photographs will be returned to Earth. The crew is expected to touch down at 10:26 pm ET, southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.
We’ll have to wait until the digital photos are processed and uploaded, but we have the above screenshot from the docking camera on board the Soyuz to give us a preview of what’s to come.
Speaking of shuttles docked to space stations, I’m reminded that the soon-to-be-retired shuttle fleet hasn’t only been docked to one space station. In 1995, shuttle Atlantis was photographed while docked to the Russian Mir Space Station, the third mission of the US/Russian Shuttle-Mir Program.
The Atlantis-Mir portrait (below) went down as one of the most iconic images in spaceflight history. And Nespoli must know that his Endeavour-ISS portrait will also go down in the history books as an iconic, yet bittersweet, reminder of the final days of NASA’s shuttle program.
Image credit: NASA, Roscosmos, NASA TV