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.
The space shuttle Discovery backs away from the International Space Station over the Caribbean in an image that Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi posted on April 18.
The colors in this photo of Madagascar are "almost like an oil painting," Noguchi wrote in a March 16 Twitter post accompanying the image.
An April 12 Noguchi photo captures the blue waters around an island in the not-so-Red Sea.
A view of the Bahamas captured with an 8mm lens shot through the seven windows of the space station's new "Cupola." The new observation platform provided countless spectacular views for Noguchi's photography.
An aurora lights up the Earth's sky behind the shuttle Atlantis near the end of the orbiter's recent visit to the International Space Station.
An image of Noguchi's home country: Mount Rishiri, an extinct volcano that forms an island, peeks through thick clouds over the Sea of Japan in an image the astronaut posted May 21.
A photo of Cancun, Mexico, posted on May 28. "Keep Gulf of Mexico clean," Noguchi wrote in an accompanying tweet — apparently referring to the leaking oil well in the waters north of the Yucatan Peninsula.
"For all 'Moon Lovers,' " Noguchi wrote after sharing this image of the moon rising over the horizon. The Earth's nearest neighbor was among Noguchi's favorite subjects during his 23-week stay on the space station.
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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.
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."