While almost most people can recall the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, no other person shares astronaut Frank Culbertson’s story.
Culbertson, along with Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Tyurin and Vladimir Dezhurov, was one of three people in space at the time of the attacks. As the only American not on the planet, the Expedition Three commander first heard the news of the tragedy in a private conversation with the flight surgeon around 10 a.m. New York time.
“I was flabbergasted, then horrified. 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,” he wrote in an open letter NASA published the next day.
Glancing at the world map, Culbertson realized the space station would soon pass over the New York City area. He jumped at the opportunity to capture footage of the airspace above the Twin Towers, grabbing the nearest camera. The photo from the scene shows smoke billowing from the southern tip of Manhattan. Culbertson estimated the still was captured shortly after Flight 175 crashed into the second tower.