September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks - 9/11 Attacks

World Trade Center Twin Towers & Pentagon Attacks Viewed From ISS on 9/11

9/11 Terrorist Attacks on World Trade Center Twin Towers From ISS – September 11, 2001 Attacks & the Story of 911
International Space Station Expedition 3 Crew - September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks - 9/11 Attacks. NASA

The effects of terrorists crashing airplanes into the World Trade Center Twin Towers and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 were devastating to most of us here in the United States. Many people around the world were also shocked and sympathetic. Most people will always remember 9/11/01, but, what kind of effect did the World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks of 9/11 have off the Earth, on the International Space Station?

Commander Frank Culbertson (Captain, USN Retired) launched aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery (Mission STS-105) on August 10, more than a month before the 9/11 World Trade Centers terrorist attacks, docking with the International Space Station on August 12. He, then, assumed command of the ISS on August 13. His Expedition 3 crew included two Russian cosmonauts, Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Nikolaevich Dezhurov, Soyuz Commander, and Mr. Mikhail Tyurin, Flight Engineer. When the Shuttle Discovery undocked on August 20, returning the Expedition 2 crew to Earth, Commander Culbertson, Dezhurov, and Tyurin were already hard at work on their full plate of science experiments.

The days that followed were very busy, if uneventful. There were many experiments to perform in Bioastronautics Research, Physical Sciences, Space Product Development, and Space Flight research. As well, preparations were underway for four EVAs (Extra-Vehicular Activity), also called space walks.

The morning of September 11, 2001 (9/11) was busy as usual, according to Commander Culbertson. “I had just finished a number of tasks this morning, the most time-consuming being the physical exams of all crew members.” After completing this last task, he had a private conversation with the flight surgeon on Earth who told him they were having “a very bad day on the ground.”

He told Commander Culbertson as much as he could about the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Centers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. “I was flabbergasted, then horrified,” said Commander Culbertson. “My first thought was that this wasn't a real conversation, that I was still listening to one of my Tom Clancy tapes. It just didn't seem possible on this scale in our country. I couldn't even imagine the particulars, even before the news of further destruction began coming in.”

At that point, Soyuz Commander, Vladamir Dezhurov, sensing that something very serious was being discussed approached Commander Culbertson, who also called the flight engineer, Mikhail Tyurin into the module. As he explained what had happened to his Russian colleagues, they were both “amazed and stunned.” He felt they “clearly understood and were very sympathetic.”

Checking the world map on the computer, they discovered they were heading southeast out of Canada and would be passing over New England soon. Commander Culbertson rushed around the International Space Station to find a window that would give him a view of New York City, discovering the one in Tyurin’s cabin provided the best view. He grabbed a video camera and began filming.

It was approximately 9:30 CDT, 10:30 on 9/11/2001 at the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

At 10:05 CDT on September 11, 2001, the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. Ten minutes later, American Airlines Flight 93, bound from Newark to San Francisco, crashed in Pennsylvania. At 10:29 CDT on 9/11/2001, the north tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.

Just after this, Commander Frank Culbertson, Expedition 3 commander aboard the International Space Station, aimed a video camera south through the window of his crewmate, Mikhail Tyurin’s, window, trying to get the best view of New York City.

“The smoke seemed to have an odd bloom to it at the base of the column that was streaming south of the city.” Like so many other people learning of the death and destruction at the World Trade Center and Pentagon , Culbertson was struck numb. “How horrible…” He continued to pan the camera up and down the east coast, to try to catch any smoke from Washington, but nothing was visible.

Like most of us Earthside, the crew of the International Space Station found it difficult to concentrate on anything, much less work, but they still had plenty to do that day.

The next pass of the ISS carried them farther south, over the east coast. All three crew members were ready with cameras, trying to catch whatever they views they could of New York and Washington. “There was haze over Washington, but no specific source could be seen. It all looked incredible from two to three hundred miles away. I can't imagine the tragic scenes on the ground.”

Besides the emotional impact of this attack on the US, the deaths of thousands, some possibly friends, the most overwhelming emotion Culbertson felt, “isolation.” Eventually, fatigue from the workload, and the emotional strain took its toll and Culbertson had to sleep.

The next day, news and information continued to come in, including personal contacts with Center Director, Roy Estess and NASA Administrator, Dan Goldin, both making reassurances to the crew that the ground teams would continue to work to ensure their safety.

"These were never questions for me," said Culbertson. "I know all these people! The ground teams have been incredibly supportive, very understanding of the impact of the news, and have tried to be as helpful as possible."

The ground teams continued feeding news to the crew, and trying to be encouraging. The Russian TsUP (Control center) were also supportive, sending news articles when US assets were unavailable and saying kind words. Culbertson’s crewmates, Dezhurov and Tyurin were also a big help, being sympathetic and giving him room to think. Mikhail Tyurin even fixed him his favorite borscht soup for dinner. They, too, were outraged.

Later that day, Commander Culbertson received some personal bad news. "I learned that the Captain of the American Airlines jet that hit the Pentagon was Chic Burlingame, a classmate of mine." Charles "Chic" Burlingame, a former Navy pilot had been flying for American Airlines for over 20 years and was commanding flight 77 when it was hijacked by terrorists and crashed into the Pentagon.

"I can't imagine what he must of gone through, and now I hear that he may have risen further than we can even think of by possibly preventing his plane from being the one to attack the White House.

What a terrible loss, but I'm sure Chic was fighting bravely to the end."

Commander Culbertson and the Expedition 3 crew departed the International Space Station when the Space Shuttle Endeavour docked with the ISS during mission STS-108.

About being on the International Space Station during the Terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Commander Culbertson said, "It's difficult to describe how it feels to be the only American completely off the planet at a time such as this. And tears don't flow the same in space..."

In the days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Twin Towers and the Pentagon, many Federal, state, local, and private agencies swung into action to help with the rescue and recovery efforts. NASA's Earth Science Enterprise sent a remote-sensing scientist to New York following the events of September 11 to aid the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the disaster recovery efforts.

Using advanced technologies it has developed for observations of Earth, NASA was able to provide imagery that was used by emergency managers to identify dangerous areas of the World Trade Center site and determine the material composition of the wreckage.

"FEMA asked NASA to provide technical assistance in the use of remote-sensing technology to assist response teams working at New York's World Trade Center. NASA also gave the city expert advice on how to obtain needed technology and imagery commercially and from other government sources," said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, Associate Administrator for Earth Sciences, NASA Headquarters, Washington.

NASA and its commercial partners have also been working on a number of other ways to help fight terrorism and to prevent and react to terrorist attacks:

  • Research aimed at building better greenhouses in space has led to a device that attacks and destroys airborne pathogens -- like Anthrax. KES Science & Technology, Inc., a company which uses technology originally developed for commercial plant growth flight hardware, has developed a potentially life-saving device that has been proven to kill anthrax spores.
  • NASA Food Technology Commercial Space Center is working with its commercial partners to find ways to combat the bioterrorism issues from anthrax infecting the United States Postal Service to the threat of bioterrorism infecting our livestock and food supplies.
  • Microbial-Vac Systemª (M-Vac) plans to research ways to detect anthrax on letters and packages. The M-Vac is used to collect dry powder samples from surfaces of unopened envelopes by going through the small opening at the edge of the sealed envelope. The M-Vac can also collect samples from the outsides of envelopes and boxes with low levels of liquid and can collect 10-20 times more anthrax surrogate (B. subtilis) than a wet cotton swab.
  • The Space Communications Technology Center has been developing cameras for face-recognition technology that could make a substantial difference in identifying terrorists.
  • ProVision Technologies, a NASA Commerical Space Center, has developed an innovative hyperspectral imaging technology that can directly support anti-terrorism activities. This low-cost, lightweight, unique sensor captures reflected energy from a target and splits this energy into hundreds of images. These images contain information that may be used to identify a wide range of terrorist weapons, such as toxins, camouflage, and altered passports.
  • NASA and it's commerican space partners are developing a number of thin-film detectors and devices that can be used for anything from night vision to future computing that could reduce the threat of terrorism in our country. The micro-sized, singe-chip sensors are being developed that can detect and monitor various chemical and bacterial compounds and could make it easier to detect trace amounts of gases and biological agents. As you can see, there a a number of areas of NASA research which can be very beneficial in the wake of the World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks. Improvements in NASA technology have always had far-reaching influence on our lives.

    Perhaps the most important thing NASA did in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon occurred during the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s December 5 flight for mission STS-108.

    On December 9, the 10 astronauts and cosmonauts in orbit took a break from the transfer of supplies, experiments and equipment to and from the Space Shuttle Endeavour and the International Space Station to pay tribute to the heroes of the attacks on the World Trade Center Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

    Aboard Endeavour were 6,000 small United States flags that were later distributed to heroes and families of the victims of the attacks after the shuttle returned to Earth. Also aboard were a U.S. flag that was found at the World Trade Center site after the attacks, a U.S. flag that has flown above the Pennsylvania state capitol, a U.S. Marine Corps Colors flag from the Pentagon, a New York Fire Department flag, and a poster that includes photographs of firefighters lost in the attacks.

    The tribute, which was carried on NASA Television, included the playing of the U.S. and Russian national anthems in the Space Shuttle and International Space Station Mission Control Centers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Remarks from the three commanders and the playing of a taped tribute from the ten crewmembers aboard the space shuttle and orbiting space station were also included.

    Shuttle Commander Dominic L.

    Gorie (Captain, USN) said the flag carried aboard Endeavour, which came from the World Trade Center, elicited especially poignant thoughts among the crew. "This was found among the rubble and it has a few tears in it. You can still smell the ashes. It is a tremendous symbol of our country," Gorie said.

    "Just like our country, it was a little battered and bruised and torn, but with a little bit of repair it is going to fly as high and as beautiful as it ever did. And that is just what our country is doing."

    International Space Station Expedition 3 Commander Frank Culbertson and his crew (cosmonauts Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin) were in orbit September 11 and could see evidence of the attacks out the windows. "That was quite a disturbing sight, as you might imagine, to see my country under attack," Culbertson said. “All of us were affected by that day greatly.

    "To all of those who lost loved ones, to all of those who worked so hard to help people survive, and to the people who are trying so hard to stop this threat, we wish you the best. We have thought about you often over the last three months that we've been here and we will continue to keep you in our thoughts," Culbertson added. "We will continue, I hope, to set a good example of how people can accomplish incredible things when they have the right goals. We will continue to think of how we can improve peace around the world and how we can improve knowledge, and hopefully that will bring people together."

    Culbertson, Dezhurov, and Tyurin returned to Earth aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on December 17, 2001 at 12:55 p.m. EST.