On Orbit and Beyond

Volume 29 of the series Space Technology Library pp 51-68


Patterns in Crew-Initiated Photography of Earth from the ISS: Is Earth Observation a Salutogenic Experience?

  • Julie A. RobinsonAffiliated withNASA Johnson Space Center Email author 
  • , Kelley J. SlackAffiliated withWyle Laboratories
  • , Valerie OlsonAffiliated withRice University
  • , Michael H. TrenchardAffiliated withNASA Johnson Space Center
  • , Kimberly J. WillisAffiliated withNASA Johnson Space Center
  • , Pamela J. BaskinAffiliated withWyle Laboratories
  • , Jennifer E. BoydAffiliated withSan Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, University of California, San Francisco

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To provide for crewmember well-being on future exploration missions, understanding coping strategies that International Space Station (ISS) crewmembers adopt to mitigate the inherent stress of long-duration confinement is important. A recent retrospective survey of flown astronauts found that the most commonly reported psychologically enriching aspects of spaceflight had to do with their perceptions of Earth. ISS crewmembers photograph Earth both volitionally and in response to requests from Crew Earth Observations (CEO) scientists. Automatically recorded data from the camera can be used to test hypotheses about factors correlated with self-initiated crewmember photography. The present study used these objective in-flight data to investigate the nature of voluntary photographic activity. We examined the distribution of photographs with respect to time, crew, and subject matter. We determined whether the frequency fluctuated in conjunction with major mission events such as vehicle dockings and extravehicular activities (EVAs, or spacewalks), relative to the norm for the relevant crew. We also examined the influence of geographic and temporal patterns on frequency of Earth photography activities. We tested the hypotheses that there would be peak photography intensity over locations of personal interest, as well as on weekends.

Of nearly 200,000 photographs taken on eight ISS expeditions, 84.5% were crew-initiated. Once a crewmember went to the window for a CEO request, he or she was more likely to take photographs for his or her own interest. Fewer self-initiated images were taken during and immediately preceding major station events. Crewmembers were more likely to take self-initiated images during periods when they had more free time. Analysis indicated some phasing in patterns of photography during the course of a mission, although it did not suggest that psychological functioning was lower during the third quarter of confinement (i.e., no third-quarter effect was found). Earth photography is a self-initiated positive activity of possible importance for salutogenesis (increase in well-being) of astronauts on long-duration missions. Scientific requests for photography through CEO play an important role in facilitating crew-initiated photography. Consideration should be given to developing substitute activities for crewmembers in future exploration missions where there will not be the opportunity to look at Earth, such as on long-duration transits to Mars.