A three-man crew that departed the International Space Station on Oct. 4 flew their Soyuz spaceship into position to take spectacular photos of the orbiting research complex as officials prepare to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first element’s launch.
Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, released some of the photos Monday, and NASA later posted additional images from the Oct. 4 photo survey.
The departing Soyuz MS-08 spacecraft, piloted by Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev with NASA crewmates Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold, undocked from the station’s Poisk module Oct. 4 to bring the three-man crew back to Earth after more than six months in orbit.
But instead of following the standard Soyuz departure trajectory, officials decided to use the spacecraft to document the external appearance of the more than 450-ton (nearly 420-metric ton) scientific outpost. The last time astronauts captured such detailed imagery during a flyaround of the station was when the final space shuttle mission departed in July 2011.
Flyarounds were common practice during shuttle visits to the complex.
Shortly after undocking, Feustel unstrapped from his seat in the Soyuz MS-08 descent module and floated into the craft’s habitation module to shoot images through a window. He returned to the landing module after a few minutes, and brought the digital images back to Earth on a memory card.
The crew landed a few hours later in Kazakhstan.
The Zarya control module launched Nov. 20, 1998, aboard a Russian Proton rocket to become the first piece of the International Space Station in orbit. Two weeks later, the shuttle Endeavour blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with the Unity connecting node, the first U.S.-built section of the station.
Thirty-seven space shuttle missions carried modules and equipment to the space station between 1998 ad 2011, and 55 Russian Soyuz crew capsules have ferried crews to the outpost.
The station’s truss backbone, which supports four sets of solar array wings, measures 357 feet (109 meters) long. The power-generating solar wings themselves span nearly 240 feet (73 meters) long tip-to-tip.
The images captured Oct. 4 show a Soyuz crew capsule and a Russian Progress resupply freighter docked at the station. Japan’s seventh H-2 Transfer Vehicle is also seen berthed to the Harmony module.
In a complex bit of orbital surgery, two spacewalking astronauts cut into a $2 billion cosmic ray detector Friday, venting away life-sustaining carbon dioxide refrigerant and then snipping eight coolant lines the size of soda straws to prepare the high-tech “patient” for a coolant pump transplant.