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Ultimate space portrait unveiled

NASA

The space shuttle Endeavour is docked to the International Space Station in this unprecedented view, captured on May 23 from a departing Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

NASA has released unprecedented views of the International Space Station linked up with the shuttle Endeavour, as seen from a departing Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli captured the images during just a few minutes on May 23, but it took more than two weeks for the views to follow a tortuous route to the Web.


Nespoli and his two crewmates — Russia's Dmitry Kondratyev and NASA's Catherine "Cady" Coleman — just happened to be heading back to Earth while Endeavour and its crew were visiting the station, which set up a golden opportunity for the kinds of pictures that had never been taken before. The images show the shuttle and station from a distance of about 600 feet (200 meters), with Earth's curving disk in the background.

NASA

The International Space Station and the docked space shuttle Endeavour are seen at an angle in this picture, captured May 23. Endeavour is visible at the top of the station's central stack, with the shuttle's robotic arm snaking around it.

While Nespoli recorded stills and high-definition video, Moscow's Mission Control commanded the space station to do a 130-degree turn worthy of a fashion model.

Only one shuttle flight remains, and that virtually guarantees that these will be the only shuttle-station shots of this type ever taken. "It's unprecedented, and we worked hard to get here," NASA's space station flight director, Derek Hassman, said at the time.

NASA

The International Space Station and the shuttle Endeavour sail over Earth's oceans and clouds in this image, captured May 23 from a departing Soyuz craft.

NASA and its Russian partners had to work hard to get the pictures back as well: When the Soyuz crew landed in Kazakhstan, the data chips containing the precious images were left inside the spacecraft. The chips and the Soyuz's other contents had to be shipped back separately to RKK Energia's processing facility in Moscow, and then cleared for distribution. That's why it took so long to get these pictures out to the world.

Maybe they could have hustled up the process. But considering the fact that these pictures will probably be showing up in history books for generations to come, I think they're still well worth the two-week wait. Do you agree? Before you answer, check out the full-size photos in NASA's online gallery.

NASA

The space shuttle Endeavour is visible at the top of the International Space Station's line of modules, with its robotic arm extended and kinked. Endeavour is connected to the Harmony node, with Japan's Kibo lab extending to the right and Europe's Columbus lab at left. Below Harmony is the U.S. Destiny lab, the Unity node, the Leonardo storage module and the Tranquility module, with its Cupola observation deck visible toward the lower right corner of the image.

More amazing views from Endeavour's mission:

Update for 11:45 p.m. ET June 7: For the photography buffs out there ... NASA officials say that Nespoli's camera equipment was provided by the Russians, so they can't say specifically what he was using. But veterans on the NASASpaceflight.com forum have tracked down the data and say Nespoli had a Nikon D3X. I've written a follow-up posting specifically about that part of the story.

Update for 12:05 p.m. ET June 8: You had to know that the ultimate space portrait would merit a mention on the network news shows. Here's a clip from "Nightly News" in which NBC News anchor Lester Holt shares some of the imagery with TV viewers. But be sure to look at the complete NASA gallery as well:

NBC's Lester Holt reports on the ultimate pictures on "Nightly News."

Update for 5:45 p.m. ET June 8: I've put together a follow-up item about the newly released high-definition video from Nespoli's photo shoot.


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