When one thinks of the terror attacks of 9/11 one generally does not think of NASA. However, there are several ties that tie the space agency with that tragic day. Some are commonly known, others have hardly been mentioned. As with so many other individuals and organizations 9/11 impacted NASA as well.
Frank Culberton Jr. was the commander of the Expedition 3 crew orbiting aboard the International Space Station when the terror attacks of 9/11 took place. As with most Americans he was shocked, horrified and angry by what he saw from his vantage point some 240 miles above the surface of our world. But more than any other American he was isolated and helpless.
His crewmates, both Russian cosmonauts did what they could to support him during this time (one went so far as to prepare his favorite meal for dinner that evening). Russian ground controllers also tried to ease Culbertson’s pain relaying what information they could to him when the ISS was out of range of U.S. communications assets.
On the ground members of Honeybee Robotics, located in New York, were deeply affected when the hijacked airliners were slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center by Islamic radicals. Honeybee’s office is located in lower Manhattan. Honeybee was working on the robotic arms of the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity – and they wanted to honor those murdered. When one looks at the rover’s arms one can (very) plainly see a piece of metal with an American flag on it – the metal that those shields are made of – were made from metal from the World Trade Center.
After completing a successful training exercise a NASA KC-135 passed close to one of the hijacked planes (within a 1,000 feet instead of the standard 2,000). The NASA jet was returning from a training flight near Lake Ontario Canada. A NASA pilot on that flight would later go on to comment that the one thing that they noticed was how quiet the radio chatter was that morning.
NASA, like many affected by that day, is stopping and reflecting on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. The space agency has dedicated a segment of their website to honor those that lost their lives. It also has compiled a video to mark Culbertson’s tragic place in history.