The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth houses a collection of over a million archived photos taken by the International Space Station (ISS) over the past twelve years. During each expedition, astronauts snapped shots of the earth which have since been consolidated on NASA’s web site. The first mission which launched on October 31, 2000 collected the smallest number of shots at 474. The ISS 30/31 expeditions were the most prolific with 261,166 and 144,718 images captured respectively. There has been a total of thirty-three completed and one current (ISS 34) expedition to date.
Those missions owe the massive amount of imagery collected in part due to astronaut Don Pettit’s time lapse sequences of the earth. Prior to that, during expedition ISS 06, Petitt developed a barn door tracker which, by compensating for the movement of the ISS relative to the Earth’s surface, permitted sharper high resolution images of city lights at night from the orbiting space station. An article from NASA on Space Station Astrophotography explains:
When Pettit tried to take pictures of city lights he quickly realized it wasn’t as easy as photographing the stars. The station, traveling 17,500 mph, races around Earth in only 90 minutes. Lights on Earth’s surface move through the window too quickly for long exposures. Stars, on the other hand, appear nearly motionless because they’re so far away. It’s like driving down a highway in a fast-moving car: Distant mountains and trees don’t appear to move much, but the fringe of the road is a blur.
“I needed something to help me track the city lights, to cancel the orbital motion of the station.”
During ISS 06, 43,436 photos were taken, compared to 13,801 for ISS 05 and 11,204 for ISS 07.
Nathan Bergey, a rocket scientist based in Portland, Oregon, has extracted locational information from these 1,129,177 photos and categorized them by mission. Bergey extracted the mission role and associated latitude/longitude values for each photo. The data is available for download and is organized by mission in CSV format.
Bergey then plotted out the point locations for all of these photos to see what a map would look like. The resulting map shows where the popular locations for snapping photos occurred during the 34 past and current missions to date. Most of the continents are recognizable, with North America showing up more clearly than Australia. The orbit lines are almost entirely due to the prolific photography of Petitt. Bergey notes, that Petitt is “single-handedly responsible for almost half the images taken on orbit.”
Bergey’s work: Location of Every Photo From the ISS