Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) are set to get a view of the Earth never seen before by human eyes, thanks to a new “Eye-Pod” aboard the Tranquility node that will fly up to the ISS in early 2010.
Dubbed the ‘Cupola’, the dome has a circular top window that’s about two and a half feet in diameter (80 centimetres) – the largest one ever built for space, says Julie Robinson, the ISS Program Scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Centre. This will dramatically expand the view of space station astronauts, who are currently confined to looking out of small portholes or at best the 20-inch window in the US Destiny Laboratory.
The astronauts will be invited to click photographs and post them online [hyperlink: http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/]. Previously, astronaut photographs of Earth have been used to understand Earth processes such as melting of icebergs, noctilucent clouds, dust storms, and the structure of hurricane eyes.
“Crews tell us that Earth gazing is important to them,” says Robinson, reminding one of the immortal words of Apollo 14 moonwalker Ed Mitchell: “Suddenly, from behind the rim of the moon, in long, slow-motion moments of immense majesty, there emerges a sparkling blue and white jewel – a light, delicate sky-blue sphere laced with slowly swirling veils of white, rising gradually like a small pearl in a thick sea of black mystery. It takes more than a moment to fully realize this is Earth… home."
Caption: An artist's conception of the Cupola "Eye-Pod" capsule