NASA astronaut Frank Culbertson is the answer to an odd, admittedly a little morbid trivia question: He was the only American not on Earth on September 11, 2001. And from his vantage point on the International Space Station, Culbertson was able to take the photo below, which NASA republished today in remembrance of the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.
Culbertson took the photo while the I.S.S passed 250 miles above Manhattan. Even from that distance, a massive debris cloud was visible emanating from the site of the World Trade Center. In a video made for the 10th anniversary of the attacks, Culbertson talked about what he saw using familiar language to describe 9/11: “It was like seeing a wound in the side of your country, of your family, your friends.” Culbertson had been on the International Space Station for a day short of a month when he took the photo.
In the aftermath of the attacks, Culbertson would learn that his Naval Academy classmate Charles Burlingame had been the pilot of the plane that was hijacked and flown into the Pentagon. Culbertson spent another three months on the I.S.S. — which, with all due respect to his crewmates, must have been three of the loneliest, strangest months any human has experienced — before returning to Earth on December 17. This was his final trip into space.
Here’s the interview with Culbertson that NASA released on the 10th anniversary.