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Astronaut Describes What It Was Like Watching 9/11 From Space

Video footage captures the moment an astronaut watched the South Tower collapse during the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City from outer space.

Frank Culbertson was the only American off the planet during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He was inside the International Space Station with two Russian cosmonauts at the time, around 250 miles above Earth.

Looking down from the space station, Culbertson could see smoke around New York, which was coming from the second of the Twin Towers.

Culbertson spoke about the experience in a 2014 documentary called Astronauts: Houston We Have a Problem.

“I raced around and found a video camera and a window facing in the right direction. The weather was perfectly clear that day. I could easily see New York City – a big black column of smoke coming out of the city, and as I zoomed in with the video camera, I could see this big grey blob enveloping southern Manhattan,” Culbertson recalled.

“What we were seeing was the second tower coming down,” he said.

Culbertson was the only American astronaut on the third mission to man the ISS, which was still under construction at the time.

He became aware of the 9/11 attack when he called Earth for a routine medical check-up. On the phone, he was told, “Frank, we’re not having a very good day down here.”

In the video, Frank can be heard telling Mission Control, “We can see New York City, and the smoke from the fires. Our prayers and thoughts go out to all the people there and everywhere else.

“Here I’m looking up and down the East Coast to see if I can see anything else,” he said.

In the documentary, Frank explains how NASA arranged a phone call with his wife later that day so he could check on his family.

“It is an isolated feeling to know that you can’t be with your loved ones to make sure they’re safe. NASA did arrange a phone call with my wife that evening. It felt good to talk to her to know she was okay and the kids were okay,” he said.