In a first, Google Maps today launched a new ‘Street View’ feature that allows the general public to explore the International Space Station (ISS), using photographs captured by astronauts aboard the orbiting laboratory. For 16 years, astronauts have been working and living on the ISS, a structure made up of 15 connected modules that float 400 kilometers above Earth. The ISS acts as a base for space exploration – possible future missions to the Moon, Mars, and asteroids – and gives us a unique perspective on Earth itself. “In the six months that I spent on the International Space Station, it was difficult to find the words or take a picture that accurately describes the feeling of being in space,” said Thomas Pesquet, astronaut at the European Space Agency (ESA), who spent six months aboard the ISS as a flight engineer. “Working with Google on my latest mission, I captured Street View imagery to show what the ISS looks like from the inside, and share what it’s like to look down on Earth from outer space,” said Pesquet, who returned to Earth last month. Scientists can collect data on the Earth’s oceans, atmosphere, and land surface and conduct experiments and studies that are not possible on Earth.
These include monitoring how the human body reacts to microgravity, solving mysteries of the immune system, studying cyclones in order to alert populations and governments when a storm is approaching, or monitoring marine litter – the rapidly increasing amount of waste found in our oceans.
“There were a few ‘firsts’ on my mission. It was led by Peggy Whitson who, at age 56, became the oldest woman to fly into space and the first woman in history to command two expeditions,” Pesquet said. “The mission was the first time Street View imagery was captured beyond planet Earth, and the first time annotations – helpful little notes that pop up as you explore the ISS – have been added to the imagery,” he said.
“They provide additional information or fun facts like where we work out to stay physically fit, what kind of food we eat, and where we conduct scientific experiments,” he added. Google’s Street View team worked with NASA at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas and Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama to design a gravity-free method of collecting the imagery using DSLR cameras and equipment already on the ISS.
“Then I collected still photos in space, that were sent down to Earth where they were stitched together to create panoramic 360-degree imagery of the ISS,” said Pesquet.