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If You Looked Out the Window While Returning From Space, Here’s What You’d See

The bright glow of friction in Earth’s atmosphere

The view out of the Soyuz window. (NASA)
smithsonian.com

The surreal, color-speckled vision of space travel seen in Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey isn't actually all that different from what astronauts really experience as they reenter Earth's atmosphere from orbit.

Earlier this month NASA put out a campy video in which astronauts gave a tour of the International Space Station, answered questions and showed off the view from on high. But by far the best part of the video, just a brief snippet noticed by Gizmodo writer Attila Nagy, comes at the 12 minute and 40 second mark when astronaut Mike Hopkins pointed a camera out of the window of the Soyuz reentry capsule.

Anyone who has paid attention to the history of space travel knows that reentry is a treacherous time. As a spacecraft drops back in to Earth's atmosphere, friction between the ship and the air causes the capsule to burn brightly. But knowing about something and actually seeing it, even if just through a few seconds of video, are very different things.

For a more descriptive—though much less visually striking—version of how the Soyuz capsule reenters earth's atmosphere, check out this video from the European Space Agency (starting at the 10 minute, 50 second mark):

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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