More than mere beauty

Abu-Dhabi Port Facility, United Arab Emirate, Persian GulfThe view of Earth from space is more than spectacular. It is valuable to science and the world’s economy. The human eye discerns subtle changes on the Earth’s surface. It notes patterns that would go undetected by robotic cameras, and it follows changes in both natural climate and human land use over the continuum of time.

Richat wind erosion structure, MauritaniaDuring Shuttle-Mir, the Mir crews photographed the Earth as it changed below them. Winter to summer. Storm to calm. At different times and in different places, the land was dusty … smoggy … erupting … on fire. Lakes dried up. Plankton bloomed. The crews took some 22,000 photographs, using 35mm and 70mm cameras, to capture both natural phenomena and changes caused by people.

Moonrise over AsiaEarth scientists trained the crews before their missions, teaching them what to watch for and giving them lists of photo targets. The Mir-21 crew of Shannon Lucid, Yury Usachev, and Yuri Onufriyenko captured seasonal changes in the Northern Hemisphere, and they filmed wildfires in Mongolia and the Kalahari Desert.

Nile River, Lake Nasser and the Red Sea, EgyptThe Mir-22 crew of John Blaha, Valeri Korzun, and Alexander Kaleri documented flooding of the lower Nile, a drought in southern Africa, and the spring thaw in the southern Andes. Both of these crews helped record baseline conditions before the famed 1997 El Niño climate event.Mir-23’s Jerry Linenger, Vasily Tsibliev, and Aleksandr Lazutkin witnessed the retreat of winter ice from North America, and Linenger photographed large dust storms over the Tibetan Plateau.

Cloud vortexesAfter recovering from the June 1997 Progress collision, the Mir-24 crew of Mike Foale, Anatoly Solovyev, and Pavel Vinogradov was able to follow the El Niño event, and to provide new images of aerosol concentrations off southern Africa. Foale also took the first videos from space of glowing—or noctilucent—high-altitude clouds.

Vesuvius volcano, ItalyAfter David Wolf joined the Mir-24 crew, he continued tracking El Niño. Other images from Wolf’s Mir increment included remarkable photographs of the lush Somali coast after record rains and severe smog conditions over Italy.


Wind eroded volcanoes and rock outcrops, Sahara Desert, Libya  Mir-25’s Andy Thomas, Talgat Musabayev, and Nikolai Budarin completed the El Niño study, and documented the massive wildfires in Mexico and Central America. Australian-born Thomas also did an extensive photo survey of his native land.


Back to
Earth Obs