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NASA Remembers September 11th
September 11, 2011
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This page chronicles some of NASA's remembrances of the September 11 attacks and the Americans who died that day.

Astronaut Frank Culbertson - The Only American Off the Planet

Frank Culbertson"The smoke seemed to have an odd bloom to it at the base of the column that was streaming south of the city. After reading one of the news articles we just received, I believe we were looking at NY around the time of, or shortly after, the collapse of the second tower. How horrible…"-Frank Culbertson Expedition 3 Commander Frank Culbertson was aboard the International Space Station at the time of the attacks, and the only American on the crew. As soon as he learned of the attacks, he began documenting the event in photographs because the station was flying over the New York City area. He captured incredible images in the minutes and hours following the event. From his unique vantage point in space, he recorded his thoughts of the world changing beneath him.

The following day, he posted a public letter that captured his initial thoughts of the events as they unfolded. "The world changed today. What I say or do is very minor compared to the significance of what happened to our country today when it was attacked."

Upon further reflection, Culbertson said, "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."

› Read Culbertson's Full Letter
› Video: Station Astronauts Honor 9/11 Victims

 

Visible from space, a smoke plume rises from the Manhattan area after two planes crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center. This photo was taken of metropolitan New York City (and other parts of New York as well as New Jersey) the morning of September 11, 2001.
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A smoke plume rises from lower Manhattan in this photo by Expedition 3 Commander Frank Culbertson on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
Image Credit: NASA

 

 

This image from NASA's Terra satellite shows a large plume of smoke streaming southward from the remnants of the burning World Trade Towers in downtown Manhattan yesterday (September 11, 2001). The image was acquired by the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) within a few hours after the terrorist attack.
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NASA's Terra satellite captured this image of a large plume of smoke streaming southward from the remnants of the burning World Trade Center.
Image Credit: Liam Gumley, MODIS Atmosphere Group, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison

This true-color image was taken by the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) aboard the Landsat 7 satellite on September 12, 2001, at roughly 11:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Savings Time.
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Smoke can still be seen at the site at around 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 12, in this image from the Landsat 7 satellite.
Image Credit: USGS Landsat 7 team, at the EROS Data Center

 

 

NASA Science Programs Monitor the Air

NASA science programs were called into action after Sept. 11, 2001, as the agency worked with FEMA to fly sensors over the affected areas on aircraft looking for aerial contaminants and used satellite resources to monitor from above.

Flags for Heroes and Families

Astronauts Mark E. Kelly (left), STS-108 pilot, and Daniel M. Tani, mission specialist, hold a bag of several American flags on the aft flight deck of the Space Shuttle Endeavour. The flags carried on the shuttle include 6,000 small U.S. flags, one U.S. flag that was recovered from the debris of the World Trade Center, a Marine Corps flag that was retrieved from the Pentagon, and an American flag from the State of Pennsylvania. Also onboard, is a large New York Fire Department flag, 23 replica New York Police Department shields, and 91 New York Police Department patches. › View Larger
STS-108 astronauts Mark Kelly, left, and Dan Tani hold commemorative American flags the shuttle Endeavour in December 2001. The flags were later presented to victims' relatives.
Image credit: NASA
NASA flew nearly 6,000 4 by 6 inch flags on Endeavour's flight during STS-108 to honor the victims of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. Students working at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas assembled the commemorative packages, including the U.S. flags flown in space, to be presented to relatives of the victims. Distribution began on June 14, 2002, National Flag Day, at a ceremony held at the American Museum of Natural History's Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York.

"The 'Flags for Heroes and Families' campaign is a way for us to honor and show our support for the thousands of brave men and women who have selflessly contributed to the relief and recovery efforts," said then-NASA Administrator Dan Goldin. "The American flags are a patriotic symbol of our strength and solidarity, and our Nation's resolve to prevail."

"NASA wanted to come up with an appropriate tribute to the people who lost their lives in the tragic events of September 11," added Goldin. "America's space program has a long history of carrying items into space to commemorate historic events, acts of courage and dramatic achievements. 'Flags for Heroes and Families' is a natural extension of this ongoing outreach project."

› Read More About 'Flags for Heroes and Families'→
 


Commemoration Goes to Mars

Memorial image taken on Mars on Sept. 11, 2011This view of an American flag on metal recovered from the site of the World Trade Center towers shortly after their destruction on Sept. 11, 2001, was taken on Mars on Sept. 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the towers.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University/Arizona State University
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In September 2001, Honeybee Robotics employees in lower Manhattan were building a pair of tools for grinding weathered rinds off rocks on Mars, so that scientific instruments on NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity could inspect the rocks' interiors.

That month's attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center, less than a mile away, shook the lives of the employees and millions of others.

Work on the rock abrasion tools needed to meet a tight schedule to allow thorough testing before launch dates governed by the motions of the planets. The people building the tools could not spend much time helping at shelters or in other ways to cope with the life-changing tragedy of Sept. 11. However, they did find a special way to pay tribute to the thousands of victims who perished in the attack.

An aluminum cuff serving as a cable shield on each of the rock abrasion tools on Mars was made from aluminum recovered from the destroyed World Trade Center towers. The metal bears the image of an American flag and fills a renewed purpose as part of solar system exploration.

One day, both rovers will be silent. In the cold, dry environments where they have worked on Mars, the onboard memorials to victims of the Sept. 11 attack could remain in good condition for millions of years.

› Read More About the Rovers' 9/11 Tribute

NASA Kennedy Adds Florida Touch to Sept. 11 Flag

Kennedy's Joe Dowdy stitches the National 9/11 Flag.› View Larger
Joe Dowdy, special operations manager at Kennedy Space Center, works on Florida's contribution to the "National 9/11 Flag" during a ceremony at Kennedy on Feb. 18, 2011.
Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
The contributions of NASA and Kennedy Space Center were stitched into the fabric of one of the nation's most recognizable symbols, when flags from Florida's Spaceport were sewn into an American Flag recovered near ground zero following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"A few days after the collapse of the World Trade Center this flag was hanging on a scaffolding at 90 West Street, which was a building directly south of the World Trade Center that was heavily damaged when the south tower collapsed," said Jeff Parness, director, founder and chairman of the "New York Says Thank You Foundation."

The flag went on to become one of the most enduring symbols of the recovery from the attack. Once complete, "The National 9/11 Flag" will be a permanent collection of the National September 11 Memorial Museum  at the World Trade Center site. There, America's flag can evoke a sense of pride, unity and hunger to keep achieving greatness, just as the nation's space program has for more than half a decade.

› Read More
Video: Kennedy Adds Florida Touch to 9/11 Flag
 

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NASA Astronaut Frank Culbertson recalls watching the events of Sept. 11, 2001, from orbit, in a video produced on the tenth anniversary of the attacks.
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NASA Television
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Page Last Updated: September 4th, 2013
Page Editor: NASA Administrator