Astro_Soichi Comes Back to Earth

Barring only the Hubble Space Telescope, Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi may go down in history as the most beloved orbiting space photographer.



The Yokohama native spent just over five months as a flight engineer aboard the International Space Station, returning to Earth today via a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. That’s the longest time any Japanese astronaut has yet spent in space.

In January NASA had finally outfitted the space station with live internet, and not long after Noguchi started a live Twitter feed under the name Astro_Soichi.

By mission’s end he had amassed about a quarter million followers, most likely due to his amazing photography of Earth and the moon from orbit.

In fact, several of Noguchi’s TwitPics proved to be National Geographic material: the Nat Geo News site has featured the astronaut’s views of Iceland’s erupting Eyjafjallajokull volcano, the space shuttle Discovery rolling over the Caribbean, the moon distorted by Earth’s atmosphere, and the ISS about to fly through an aurora, among others.

No doubt Noguchi is glad to be home after spending months in the ISS’s cramped quarters. (“I sensed powerfully the scents of grass and soil” at the moment the spacecraft’s hatch opened, Noguchi told the Mainichi Daily News.)

But his fans will sorely miss his unique viewpoint on our home planet, not to mention his willingness to use his spare time to beam his visions back home via the wonders of modern technology.

As a parting tribute to Astro_Soichi, here are a few of the pictures chronicling his shared journey:


Sapphire waters swirl off the coast of CancĂșn, Mexico (map). Soichi must have been thinking of the Gulf oil spill when he took the shot, writing in his TwitPic “Keep Gulf of Mexico clean … .”


The space shuttle Atlantis seems to hover over Earth with its open payload bay empty. Atlantis’s visit to the ISS in late May marked the final flight of that particular space shuttle.


Astronomy scopes out astronomy: Soichi took this picture of northern Chile’s Atacama desert, the site of the ALMA radio telescope array, now under construction.


The bright lights of Beijing at night make the city look like a golden integrated circuit …


A fisheye lens helped Soichi capture this unusual view of the Bahamas through the ISS’s new cupola, a seven-window observation deck installed in February. (See more pictures of the cupola.)


Rusty colored sediments running into the blue seas off Madagascar create an abstract “painting” as seen from the ISS.


Capped with snow, Mount Fuji looms over the surrounding Japanese countryside. Soichi snapped this shot on the morning of his hundredth day in orbit.