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Space skipper vs. the world


Can you guess what this picture shows? It's one of the images offered by space station commander Scott Kelly as part of his Geography Trivia Contest. (Answer below.)

A picture from the International Space Station makes for a pretty ocean scene — and a pretty cool trivia contest as well. For the past four weeks, space station commander Scott Kelly has been teasing his Twitter followers with pictures from orbit, with prizes promised to the winners.

The prizes? Pictures of those Earth views autographed by Kelly himself, to be sent out after he comes down from the station in March. But this contest is a matter of pride as well as prizes. The first one to come up with the right answer to each week's challenge gets a tweeted tribute from the world's highest-flying skipper. Kelly is due to post a new challenge today, so watch for his tweet and play along. (Be sure to check the contest rules!)

Kelly arrived at the station aboard a Soyuz craft in October, and took over command of the space station from his fellow NASA astronaut, Doug Wheelock, on Thanksgiving Day. Wheelock had been NASA's top tweetmeister aboard the station, and Kelly inherited that role as well as the title of commander.

Unfortunately, not even Kelly can control the launch schedule for flights to the station: When NASA decided to delay the launch of the shuttle Discovery until February at the earliest, that ruled out what would have been a history-making orbital meeting between Scott Kelly and his twin brother, Mark. Mark Kelly is due to command the shuttle Endeavour's mission to the station, and if the previous schedule had held, both Kellys would have been on the station simultaneously -- marking the first simultaneous spaceflights by two blood relatives. (A husband-and-wife team, Mark Lee and Jan Davis, flew together on Endeavour in 1992.)

Now Scott Kelly is scheduled to come down in March, and Mark Kelly is due to go up no earlier than April. Scott tweeted that he was "not upset" about missing the bro-to-bro scenario. "This is the nature of the business," he said. "We fly when the vehicle is ready."

Today, Scott Kelly invited his followers to "tour my crib" through a video walk-through. He showed off his sleeping quarters as well as the double-computer setup he uses on the station. One computer is for internal station control. The other is for connecting to the Internet down on Earth. Kelly acknowledged that he did online banking via the space-to-ground link. "You can actually even buy a present if you needed to," he said in the video clip. Check it out:

Speaking of presents, the space station view at the top of this item serves as the holiday treat behind Door No. 6 in our Cosmic Log Space Advent Calendar. Have you figured out what the picture shows? David Cohen of Vineland, N.J., correctly guessed that it's the Bahamas, winning Round 2 of Kelly's contest.

Update for 8:50 p.m. ET: Scott Kelly has come out with this week's Geography Trivia Contest challenge. The bonus image is just below, and Kelly provides this clue: "In terms of expeditions, this land area marks the true test of endurance. Name it!" Here's another clue: If you've watched Kelly's "crib" video, you'll definitely know what he's talking about.


This land area is the focus of Scott Kelly's latest Geography Trivia Contest puzzler.

Every day until Christmas, we'll be offering a new image of Earth as seen from space. Here are some links to the previous images in the set, plus three other Advent calendars with space themes:

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