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September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks - 9/11 Attacks

Things Get Worse As More 9/11 Terrorist Attack News Reaches ISS

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9/11 Terrorist Attacks on World Trade Center Twin Towers From ISS – September 11, 2001 Attacks & the Story of 911

View of World Trade Center From ISS on 9/11/01

NASA
At 10:05 CDT on September 11, 2001, the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. Ten minutes later, American Airlines Flight 93, bound from Newark to San Francisco, crashed in Pennsylvania. At 10:29 CDT on 9/11/2001, the north tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.

Just after this, Commander Frank Culbertson, Expedition 3 commander aboard the International Space Station, aimed a video camera south through the window of his crewmate, Mikhail Tyurin’s, window, trying to get the best view of New York City.

“The smoke seemed to have an odd bloom to it at the base of the column that was streaming south of the city.” Like so many other people learning of the death and destruction at the World Trade Center and Pentagon , Culbertson was struck numb. “How horrible…” He continued to pan the camera up and down the east coast, to try to catch any smoke from Washington, but nothing was visible.

Like most of us Earthside, the crew of the International Space Station found it difficult to concentrate on anything, much less work, but they still had plenty to do that day.

The next pass of the ISS carried them farther south, over the east coast. All three crew members were ready with cameras, trying to catch whatever they views they could of New York and Washington. “There was haze over Washington, but no specific source could be seen. It all looked incredible from two to three hundred miles away. I can't imagine the tragic scenes on the ground.”

Besides the emotional impact of this attack on the US, the deaths of thousands, some possibly friends, the most overwhelming emotion Culbertson felt, “isolation.” Eventually, fatigue from the workload, and the emotional strain took its toll and Culbertson had to sleep.

The next day, news and information continued to come in, including personal contacts with Center Director, Roy Estess and NASA Administrator, Dan Goldin, both making reassurances to the crew that the ground teams would continue to work to ensure their safety. "These were never questions for me," said Culbertson. "I know all these people! The ground teams have been incredibly supportive, very understanding of the impact of the news, and have tried to be as helpful as possible."

The ground teams continued feeding news to the crew, and trying to be encouraging. The Russian TsUP (Control center) were also supportive, sending news articles when US assets were unavailable and saying kind words. Culbertson’s crewmates, Dezhurov and Tyurin were also a big help, being sympathetic and giving him room to think. Mikhail Tyurin even fixed him his favorite borscht soup for dinner. They, too, were outraged.

Later that day, Commander Culbertson received some personal bad news. "I learned that the Captain of the American Airlines jet that hit the Pentagon was Chic Burlingame, a classmate of mine." Charles "Chic" Burlingame, a former Navy pilot had been flying for American Airlines for over 20 years and was commanding flight 77 when it was hijacked by terrorists and crashed into the Pentagon.

"I can't imagine what he must of gone through, and now I hear that he may have risen further than we can even think of by possibly preventing his plane from being the one to attack the White House. What a terrible loss, but I'm sure Chic was fighting bravely to the end."

Commander Culbertson and the Expedition 3 crew departed the International Space Station when the Space Shuttle Endeavour docked with the ISS during mission STS-108.

About being on the International Space Station during the Terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Commander Culbertson said, "It's difficult to describe how it feels to be the only American completely off the planet at a time such as this. And tears don't flow the same in space..."

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