Ann Hutchison
(Phone: 281/483-5111)

Release: J00-37

Like photo-hungry tourists, the astronauts and cosmonauts who spent time
on the Russian space station Mir took along cameras and lots of film to
record their observations. Their photographs are providing important new
insights into how nature and humans are changing planet Earth.

Some of these photographs will be published this month as part of a new
book of the results of imagery analysis in such areas as urban growth,
El NiÒo impacts, and changes in sea levels, coastal vegetation and land
use. A collaborative effort between NASA and Russian Aviation and Space
Agency Earth observation experts, Dynamic Earth Environments: New
Observations from Shuttle-Mir Missions will include 16 pages of color
photographs taken by astronauts and cosmonauts on Mir between March 1996
and June 1998.

“One advantage of the long-duration program on Mir is that crews could
observe and record a continuum of changes on the Earth, including
changes from season to season,” said Kamlesh Lulla, Ph.D., chief of the
Office of Earth Sciences at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

By observing and documenting surface dynamics and processes over time,
scientists can gain a better understanding of the forces ñ both natural
and human-induced ñ that change the Earth. Some of the 22,000
photographs taken by the Mir astronauts capture natural phenomena for
the first time, such as lakes in the Andes Mountains drying up.

“Our primary goal was to use photographs taken from space to document
environmental changes and dynamic Earth processes such as flooding,
droughts and urban growth around the world,” Lulla added. Other areas of
interest included events related to short-lived phenomena such as
tropical storms, large fires and volcanic eruptions that otherwise might
have gone undocumented.

A second major objective was to use the experience gained during actual
space flight to develop approaches and tools for the next generation of
Earth observations from the International Space Station (ISS). “The
Shuttle-Mir missions served us well in preparing the NASA Earth sciences
program for long-duration scientific investigations from the ISS,” Lulla

He cited a variety of benefits from the operational experience provided
by the Mir flights, including the development and testing of interactive
electronic training and reference software, an interactive map, and
evaluation of the long-term impact of on-orbit film reloading, data
recording and camera maintenance. “Most importantly,” Lulla added, “we
learned to plan and communicate effectively from remote centers with an
international crew.”

Astronauts Shannon Lucid, John Blaha, Jerry Linenger, Michael Foale,
David Wolf and Andrew Thomas, and their Russian crewmates, used
hand-held 35 mm and 70 mm cameras equipped with a variety of lenses.
They were able to record long-term and seasonal changes in agricultural
and other land-use patterns, changes in atmospheric conditions, and
ecological changes such as global deforestation.

“A key factor in the success of the Mir Earth observations research was
crew initiative,” Lulla said. “Some of the best and most interesting
phenomena cannot be anticipated, but they can be documented by
well-trained astronaut observers.”

Before each flight, scientists from various Earth science disciplines
trained the crewmembers in recognition of Earth features and processes.
Russian and American scientists then created a list of desired sites and
requested photography of the sites when conditions permitted. “A
relatively new focus of investigation was on the production of aerosols
such as dust, smog and smoke around the world,” Lulla said. Such data
are becoming increasingly important in climate-change modeling, material
transport and land-use change. Other targets of interest were sites with
short-term natural dynamics, such as plankton blooms in oceans, as well
as active and rapidly changing volcanic regions.

The focus and extent of photography varied from crew to crew, Lulla
said. For example, Lucid and her Russian crewmates documented the
transition from winter to spring to summer in the Northern Hemisphere.
Foale and his colleagues on Mir recorded key atmospheric changes related
to the developing 1997 El NiÒo event, which formed an important baseline
for tracking the impact of El NiÒo during subsequent flights. Thomas
completed documentation of El NiÒo during the final U.S. flight on Mir.

Lulla said the book is aimed at a very broad audience, not just
researchers in the Earth science disciplines. “The photographs contain
valuable and easily understood information about regional occurrences
and duration of hard-to-measure events,” Lulla said. “Students of the
Earth of all levels should find this book of value.” The book should be
available at large booksellers and libraries, as well as through
academic bookstores.

Astronaut photographs of Earth certainly are not unusual. NASA’s
collection, which dates from the early days of the American space
program nearly 40 years ago, numbers some 400,000 images. The images
taken during the Shuttle-Mir program have been added to the larger
database of photographs taken by astronauts and cosmonauts during
flights around the Earth and to the Moon.

“This imagery provides us with a global perspective on the rhythms and
spatial scale of important natural and human-induced events taking place
on the Earth’s surface,” Lulla said. “If the experiences of the
Shuttle-Mir crews are typical, Earth observations by crewmembers on the
International Space Station will greatly improve both our database and
our understanding of processes and changes on the Earth,” he added.

In keeping with the international nature of the book, astronaut Frank
Culbertson and cosmonaut Valery Ryumin – managers of the Shuttle-Mir
program — provided the foreword. The volume also has both an American
and a Russian editor. Editing duties were shared by Lulla and by Lev
Desinov, Ph.D., of the Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of
Sciences in Moscow. Associate editors were Cindy Evans, Julie Robinson
and Pat Dickerson, senior scientists in JSC’s Office of Earth Sciences.

An on-line database of astronaut photographs from space is available at
the following Web sites: , , and