Frank Culbertson was up on the ISS and had a unique vantage point on the 9/11 attack in New York. The NASA astronaut was flying 250 miles above Manhattan at the time of the attack on the Twin Towers and he captured a unique image of the huge debris cloud, clearly visible and emanating from the side of the World Trade Center. The International Space Station was still under construction at that time and Culbertson was up in orbit with two Russian cosmonauts.


Inverse reports that as the only American who was not on Earth during the attack, the sight was obviously shocking to Culbertson, who had been up on the ISS for just one day short of a month at the time. In an interview held on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Culbertson spoke about what he saw from up there on the International Space Station. He described it as being like seeing a wound in the side of your country, family and friends.


Culbertson took photos and video footage of the attack site from the ISS, while satellites also tracked from orbit. He could see not only the smoke, but also the debris across Manhattan.

Back in 2001, the astronauts on the space station didn’t have live TV or Internet, but when Culbertson reported on his sighting from the ISS, Steve Hart, Culbertson’s flight surgeon at Mission Control Houston reportedly told him, "Frank, we're not having a very good day down here on Earth."

Culbertson spent a long lonely time on the ISS following the 9/11 attacks

Despite the company of his crewmates on the ISS, it was hard for Culbertson to spend another three, probably very lonely and strange months, up in orbit before he returned home to Earth on December 17.

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According to Space, this marked Culbertson’s final trip into space. What probably made it even worse for the NASA astronaut was the fact that in the aftermath of 9/11, he learned that Charles “Chic” Burlingame, a Naval Academy classmate, was the pilot of Flight 77, the plane which was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon.

Only one plane was seen flying in U.S. airspace

In the video below, Culbertson explains how with every orbit, he and his fellow astronauts tried to see more of what was happening down on earth.

He did note that all the contrails, normally seen crisscrossing the U.S., had disappeared, as all airplanes had been grounded, except, reportedly Air Force One, which was heading back to D.C. with U.S. President George W. Bush on board.

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