Spaceman’s view of Atlantis landing

STS-135 Atlantis Plasma Trail from the ISS

Thursday morning the International Space Station (ISS) flew directly over the Kennedy Space Center almost exactly 9 minutes before the final landing of Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-135. This gave the astronauts on-board the BEST seat in the world universe for the historic landing.

As the orbiter decended into the atmosphere, American astronaut Mike Fossum radioed that he was in the ISS cupola, and could totally make out the plasma trail from above.

And of course, he took pictures!

The atmosphere glow from the impending sunrise can be seen in the distance, along with city lights from Mother Earth below.

Very cool. Very cool indeed.

See more high-res photos at

Lead photo courtesy the ever-cool Spaceflight now website, and

  • dmilligan

    How Interesting, I've never seen re-entry pictures from that perspective. When I initially looked at the first picture, it looked like the shuttle hit the atmosphere and lit up and then went into a steep dive. I thought "Good lord! Those people are crazy!". After looking at the second picture, the perspective became clear and it made more sense. I had to go have a lie down after that.

    • B72

      I'm still not sure I'm making sense of what I'm looking at. Is the bright spot where the shuttle is now? If not, why is the newer trail less bright? The cloud cover is different in the different pics, but the plasma trail remains similar. It must take this thing a while to descend.

      • dmilligan

        The bright spot is the current position of the shuttle, glowing from re-entry heat. The trail is smoke or vapor (I'm not sure which, or maybe a combination) hanging in the atmosphere from the hot shuttle's passage. The shuttle is traveling from the bottom of the pictures towards the top, losing speed and altitude as it travels, and that's why it appears to be turning to the left from the viewpoint of the ISS. Does that clear things up at all for you?
        I don't know how long it takes for the shuttle to go from orbit, thru re-entry to landing. I did a quick Google and couldn't come up with a number. My iffy memory comes up with around 20 minutes or so.

        • B72

          I see it now! That makes a lot more sense. If you look at the cloud sequences in the link you can also see that they are moving from top to bottom, against the direction of travel of the shuttle (it's flying into the wind).

  • Number_Six

    I'm boggled. I've really been enjoying the space-related articles of late, but haven't had anything remotely intelligent to say, other than something like, "holy cow!" or "awesome!" So, uh, that picture is unreal. What must it be like to be on either end of that lens?

    • McQueen

      I feel your pain , just a smidgen out of my expertise

  • TechieInHell

    How heroic of Mike Fossum to give his life to bring us this picture. I say that because I'm assuming with no further shuttle missions on the roster for NASA, Mike is now trapped on the ISS until he runs out of air. Either that, or he gets the coolest skydiving mission of all time.