NASA Considers Space Station Family Portrait

11 Feb

NASA is considering a plan to snap a photo of the International Space Station at its most crowded. The agency hasn’t made a decision yet — but maybe enough public support can convince them to take the most mind-blowing space photo of the Space Shuttle era.

During the final flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery, planned for late February or early March, the International Space Station will play host to a record number of spacecraft. Five new visitors from space agencies all over the world will be docked at the ISS, making the space station the heaviest and largest it has ever been.

This flight will the the one and only chance to capture this cosmic conference on film, before the shuttle is retired for good.

NASA officials are investigating a scheme in which one of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft would undock from the ISS to take the family portrait.

This historic photo op may require an in-flight game of musical chairs. The most reasonable plan, NASA officials decided in a meeting at Johnson Spaceflight Center, is for the Soyuz to undock, swing around the ISS so that the crew within can snap a photo, and then redock, requiring a dual-docking procedure to fit both the Soyuz and Discovery. Several different flight plans are being considered, and each one would give a slightly different view of the ISS.

The spacecraft that would gather to say cheese would hail from all over the world, including Japan’s H-II Transfer Vehicle-2, Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle-2 (named Johannes Kepler), the Italian-built Permanent Multipurpose Module (named Leonardo), the ExPrESS Logistics Carrier-4 and the Shuttle Discovery.

The procedure would be inconvenient, taking a total of 15 hours and possibly removing crew members from their posts at important moments. But the resulting photo would be one for the ages, and a fitting farewell to the Shuttle.

This wouldn’t be the first time a Soyuz has played photographer for a space station. In 1995, a Soyuz undocked from the Mir space station to photograph the undocking of the Space Shuttle Atlantis (above).

Image: Nikolai Budarin, Russian Space Research Institute, NASA


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