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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Mind the 400 kilometer gap

By Phil Plait

I feel the earth move under my feet

I feel the sky tumbling down

I feel my heart start to trembling

Whenever you're orbiting around… 

                        -With apologies to Carole King


On Jan. 13, 2017, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet took his first spacewalk outside the International Space Station. His mission: Upgrade some batteries that help power the orbiting platform.

He took a moment, though, to take that photo above. And holy wow! What a shot! Watch out for that first step: 400 kilometers is a long way down. As he tweeted:


I love this shot. Besides the vertigo-inducing view, on the right you can see a bit of (what I think is) the Soyuz MS-03 capsule that brought him to ISS in November 2016. Just a little reminder that we send humans to space all the time. In fact, the station has been continuously occupied for over 16 years.

I’ll admit, looking at his photo makes my stomach a little queasy. I could never do a mission like this; screaming incoherently and throwing up in my spacesuit would probably prove detrimental to accomplishing any repairs. So, I think I’ll leave it up to those who can, and be happy they do the work they do so very, very well.