The events of September 11, 2001 changed the world forever, and one person had a completely unique viewpoint of the horror unfolding.
Expedition 3 Commander Frank Culbertson was the only American who was part of the International Space Station’s crew on that fateful day.
As such, NASA calls him “The Only American Off the Planet” on 9/11.
And, in a strange twist of fate, the ISS happened to be flying over the East Coast of the US on the morning of September 11, allowing the station to take some photos of smoke pluming out of the Twin Towers – including the image above.
While he must have been experiencing a completely different kind of terror to his fellow crew members, Culbertson still had the piece of mind to compose some thoughts about what he was going through, watching helplessly from above.
“It’s difficult to describe how it feels to be the only American completely off the planet at a time such as this. The feeling that I should be there with all of you, dealing with this, helping in some way, is overwhelming,” he wrote in a letter published the following day
“It’s horrible to see smoke pouring from wounds in your own country from such a fantastic vantage point. The dichotomy of being on a spacecraft dedicated to improving life on the Earth and watching life being destroyed by such willful, terrible acts is jolting to the psyche, no matter who you are.”
On the 17th anniversary of those awful events, the ISS had yet another poignant memorial, the station’s official Twitter account posting an image of modern-day Manhattan, writing, “Today we remember the victims, survivors and heroes of #September11th.”
Today we remember the victims, survivors and heroes of #September11th. In June 2018, @astro_ricky snapped this photo of New York City from the vantage point of the International Space Station, with One World Trade Center visible on the left. #NeverForget https://t.co/H2WGxoyFzf pic.twitter.com/hsqIWnM0gz
— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) September 11, 2018
The photo was taken by Astronaut Ricky Arnold, who captured the image in June of this year, providing a stark reminder of how far along New York City has come in the intervening years.