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. michaelfury

    Time for a much closer look, CNN:


    September 9, 2011 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  2. michaelfury

    "I'm sure Chic was fighting bravely to the end"

    And yet Ted Olsen claimed his wife's cell phone call included the information that the pilots were at the back of the plane with her. Would Captain Burlingame have just surrendered the controls of AA77 like that?


    September 9, 2011 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  3. michaelfury


    September 9, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bimbo the Birthday Clown

    The two most popular stories right now on CNN International are

    1) Drunken moose ends up stuck in Swedish apple tree
    2) What's wrong with Stockholm

    Really ????

    September 9, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Janice Stockbauer

    Wright on Mr President-You got my Vote and Support. Only wish we could get rid of all the lies or spin
    thats out there as it really confuses most people.

    September 9, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Migraine

      oh Dear, we're all so confused. Thanks for setting us straight Janice. no pun intended.

      September 9, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. brian

    dude...Thats realy sad about what happend there.a lot of people died to that.its a good thing my filght got delayd 1 day befor that,cause on my 10th-b-day we were gona go there...you dont now how lucky you realy are til it happens close to you....

    September 9, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Yellowbird

    This article pretty well sums up my feelings. I don't think it is a healthy thing to gather and celebrate infamy. It is destructive to the national spirit, and it keeps the haters in power.


    September 9, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |

      yellow bird from firstgen?

      September 9, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |

    i miss seaseme street's show "pigs in space" taht show was awesome...

    September 9, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
  9. yada

    @ Michaelfury What are you trying to say? That the pilot wasn't brave? I find your post annoying and think you should go play with your toys and then take a nap. Don't be judging what people did on that plane! What would you do if you were confronted with that degree of terror? And perhaps he was made to give up the controls. DUH! It just burns me up that after reading the heartfelt words of the astronaught, you come along with your cr@p and say something like that!

    September 9, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      @yada: agreed. Initially, it was thought to be a hijacking, ie take this bus to cuba. The reason the people on flight 93 did what they did was communication. They heard on cell phones what had happened in new york.

      'course, fury might have been too young to remember.. They should make a movie about it.

      Wait.. They did.. Maybe if it had been animated, he'd have seen it..

      September 9, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  10. usaboigetmoney

    Its clear.... the corporationicans have an agenda and Obama is trying to cramp their style (so uncool). They have a good scam going and now he wants them to help the common man? (Blasphemy!) Sir! This is an outrage! We must continue cutting gov expenditure, tax breaks for the rich and wonderful (hi boss :]) and break down this government thing... and that's that!
    I Call first dibs on the next country we invade 🙂

    September 9, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Emi

    this was a very sad day for these people and give that astronaught cretid for what he did for us!! 😉

    September 9, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Frank Colbertson

    I was actually not paying attention. I was too busy getting plowed in the ars by an alien!

    September 9, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  13. The angry pirate

    I got a WMD for ya. Its called my right hook! Just come to the trailer park and ask my pregnant wife about it!

    September 9, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Alien Rapist

    We call it Moonchild. We're not sure exactly what it is because its half American.

    September 9, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. yada

    @ leeintulsa LMAO! Thanks for your input! It just really p*ssed me off when I read his "Self Serving" B S! As if! YOU, however, brightened my day! Thanks!

    September 9, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
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