9/11 from space: Astronaut shares pictures and thoughts
Astronaut Frank Culbertson captured this image as the International Space Station orbited above New York on 9/11.
September 9th, 2011
11:21 AM ET

9/11 from space: Astronaut shares pictures and thoughts

When the towers of the World Trade Center fell on September 11, 2001, one American was not on the planet.

Astronaut Frank Culbertson had been aboard the International Space Station for a month when the 9/11 attacks occurred, joined only by two Russian cosmonaut crew mates. He could only monitor the events of the day from 300 miles above the Earth.

On Friday, NASA released letters Culbertson wrote and images he took as the space station passed over the New York City area after the 9/11 attacks.

Frank Culbertson

Culbertson wrote that he first heard of the attack via radio from a NASA flight surgeon.

"I was flabbergasted, then horrified. My first thought was that this wasn't a real conversation, that I was still listening to one of my Tom Clancy tapes," Culbertson wrote. "It just didn't seem possible on this scale in our country. I couldn't even imagine the particulars, even before the news of further destruction began coming in."

And he closed his letter on that first day:

"Other than the emotional impact of our country being attacked and thousands of our citizens and maybe some friends being killed, the most overwhelming feeling being where I am is one of isolation."

A day later, after having time to reflect on what was happening below, Culbertson continued his writing.

"It's horrible to see smoke pouring from wounds in your own country from such a fantastic vantage point. The dichotomy of being on a spacecraft dedicated to improving life on the earth and watching life being destroyed by such willful, terrible acts is jolting to the psyche, no matter who you are," he wrote.

And he continued to feel his isolation.

"It's difficult to describe how it feels to be the only American completely off the planet at a time such as this. The feeling that I should be there with all of you, dealing with this, helping in some way, is overwhelming."

The destruction of 9/11 also became more personal for him that  day.

"I learned that the Captain of the American Airlines jet that hit the Pentagon was Chic Burlingame, a classmate of mine" at the U.S. Naval Academy, Culbertson wrote. "What a terrible loss, but I'm sure Chic was fighting bravely to the end. And tears don't flow the same in space ... "

Read Culbertson's letters in full.

See a NASA video and more satellite images of 9/11.

Filed under: NASA • September 11 • Space • Terrorism
soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. banasy©

    Michael Fury will never answer anything said to him; all he does is spam.
    His blog site has a comment section; we should all go over there and post links to CNN.
    Either that, or tell him what we REALLY think of his infantile attempts to write op-eds.
    Meanwhile, some people are taking his word for truth.
    Imho, he is just as bad as the Faye.org spammer.

    September 9, 2011 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Alex Mason

    Everything I needed to know about Islam, I learned on 9/11.

    September 9, 2011 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer

      Unfortunately, that's what 9/11 taught most people. All religions have extremists (Waco for example). My History professor a couple of years ago read a passage to us that basically consisted of love all others, and do God's will by protecting them from evil. The phrasing of it made me instantly think of the Bible, although I couldn't place the passage. It was from the Quran.

      September 11, 2011 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      This is very sad and also very wrong.

      September 11, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric C

      Then you haven't learned a thing.

      September 12, 2011 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
  3. the prophet

    Why has been and is the American Democracy under attack by the Islam groups or from the left of Islam? What are their interests what they want?

    September 10, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Georgia Hull

    9/11 was an inside job.

    September 10, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Teresa

      Proof, where's the proof.

      September 11, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
  5. the prophet

    Mw too think about this conspiracy that an inside job, but within which agency though

    September 10, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Hatrs

    9/11 is Bush teaching America how to hate islam.

    September 10, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. yada

    Thanks banasy. I have an older phone so I'm unable to go to web sites. Well I can go to them but most are too big for my screen. I'm due for an update in Oct. Would you believe I thought the Faye thing was real when I first saw it? Thanks to you and other poster's comments though, I caught on real fast. What's your opinion on 9/11 if you don't mind saying. Some people think it was an inside job but I never felt that way. I'd be interested in hearing your "take" on it because you seem to know a lot more about politics etc. than I do.

    September 10, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. the prophet

    But the question is which agency had to involved in the 911, whom ever planned it had to be under secrecy for sure. Kennedy assassination conspiracy is another example!! We got Osama b.l there had to be some thing there in his hideaway that can connect him to 911

    September 10, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
  9. M.E.G

    Good morning! I can only imagine the helpless feeling this astronaut must of felt. To be out in space and hearing of this devestation through the radio. His friend (the pilot) was brave. He was a pilot but also human.

    September 11, 2011 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
  10. Mike Houston

    Interesting perspective...

    What's also curious is why so many of our young are so willing to believe in conspiracy theories that have
    no foundation in facts...

    September 11, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Texas Dawn

      LOL, just because you are paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you. My husband thinks the whole moon landing was a hoax. I get tickled at the conspiracy theorists. I love that they exist. The entertainment is priceless. Never underestimate the benefit of a good belly laugh!

      September 12, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JKR

    Consipiracy theorists are weak and lazy, not even close to knowing the facts. So sad.

    September 11, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • telloid

      It makes life for the rest of us... the ones that live in logic and proof, a lot easier. Ever wonder how some people thrive, create, innovate, and succeed, and others just brew in a pot of lies while producing zero? Think about how much intellectual resource is thrown away... all these young people convinced that investing their brains in 9/11 conspiracy is worth it. Meanwhile, the same age group in other parts of the world is producing new invention after new invention. Take a look around the world.... some people produce innovation, other's produce death. Ask yourself why, how...

      September 12, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. HPNIII

    Lucky he had his Brownie Instamatic with him.

    September 12, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Tomizuka

    imagine what other war torn areas look like from space. we need to stop acting dumb!

    September 14, 2011 at 2:35 am | Report abuse |
  14. Abner

    that you need to run gpupdate on the svreer to spread the updates accross the domain. This is wrong gpupdate only affect the computer it was excuted on. I am sure about it. If you run gpupdate on the svreer it will only update the svreer's own policy not the clients. He repeats this mistake many times.Another one is he doesn't know that group memebership only applied at logon so he tries changing group membership for some user and doesn't understand why it is not happening the why he want. Then just chat along to find some excuse out of it.I wrote to trainsignal twice about it and they have never bother to reply.

    April 22, 2012 at 4:49 am | Report abuse |
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