High Resolution From The High Frontier : The Picture Show During his 23-week shift in orbit, astronaut Soichi Noguchi has been capturing stunning images of Earth — and Tweeting them live. As his shuttle beginsa return to Earth, we are taking a look back at some of his most beautiful Tweets.
NPR logo High Resolution From The High Frontier

High Resolution From The High Frontier

Two-hundred miles up might be just enough to give anyone a little perspective. For months, Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi used his perch aboard the International Space Station to share dramatic images of his home planet with thousands of earthbound followers via Twitter.

Noguchi's regular feed of colorful landscapes and seascapes, shadowy moon shots and awesome auroras ends late Tuesday. That's when the 45-year-old engineer from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and two crewmates are scheduled to board a Russian spaceship and head home. But the hundreds of memorable shots Noguchi captured during his 23 weeks in orbit could easily continue circulating around the world for years to come.

Space travelers have returned to Earth with out-of-this-world pictures from their missions for five decades. What made Noguchi's different was the almost continuous flow of high-quality photos he beamed back directly from space, almost as soon as he took them. The feed was made possible by the space station's newly activated Internet connection, which came online a month into Nouchi's mission. That link allowed the orbiting shutterbug to post messages on Twitter — and its photo-oriented offshoot, Twitpic — without having to e-mail them back to Earth for others to tweet for him.

The Atlantis shuttle leaves the International Space Station and prepares for its return to Earth. Soichi Noguchi hide caption

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Soichi Noguchi

Noguchi also had access to a new observation module, delivered by the space shuttle Endeavour in February. With seven large windows, the dome-shaped Cupola built by the European Space Agency gave Noguchi panoramic views outside the station.

The results quickly attracted a huge online audience. Noguchi's list of Twitter followers quickly grew to about 250,000 — eight times more than he had when the station's live Internet link was first established in January.

This is Noguchi's second trip to the space station. He also was part of an earlier shuttle crew that paid a visit to the outpost five years ago. If all goes as planned for the end of his current extended mission, Noguchi and two crewmates — cosmonaut Oleg Kotov and NASA astronaut T.J. Creamer — will leave the station in a Soyuz spacecraft and land early Wednesday in Kazakhstan (late Tuesday in the United States, just before midnight Eastern time).

Some of Noguchi's final Twitter posts from the space station suggested the astronaut was thinking as much about his homecoming as he was about the views he was about to leave behind. On Monday he posted a picture of his home country with this message: "One more look at our beautiful Mt. Fuji, Japan."