Category Archives: Private Space Inc.

Pardon My Vomit: Zero G Ettiquette In the Age Of Space Tourism

It’s a new era for space travel. And if there’s one thing that sets it apart from the previous one, it is the spirit of collaboration that exists between space agencies and between the public and private sector. And with commercial aerospace (aka. NewSpace) companies looking to provide everything from launch services to orbital and lunar tourism, a day is fast-approaching when ordinary people will be able to go into space.

Because of this, many aerospace companies are establishing safety and training programs for prospective clients. If civilians plan on going into space, they need to have the benefit of some basic astronaut training. In short, they will need to learn how to go safely conduct themselves in a zero-gravity environment, with everything from how to avoid blowing chunks to how to relieve oneself in a tidy fashion.

In recent years, companies like Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, Space Adventures, Golden Spike, and SpaceX have all expressed interest in making space accessible to tourists. The proposed ventures range from taking passengers on suborbital spaceflights – a la Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo – to trips into orbit (or the Moon) aboard a space capsule – a la Blue Origins’ New Shepard launch system.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo’s performing a glide flight. Credit: Virgin Galactic

And while these trips will not be cheap – Virgin Galactic estimates that a single seat aboard SpaceShipTwo will cost $250,000 – they absolutely have to be safe! Luckily, space agencies like NASA already have a very well-established and time-honored practice for training astronauts for zero-g. Perhaps the most famous involves flying them around in a Zero-Gravity Aircraft, colloquially known as the “Vomit Comet”.

This training program is really quite straightforward. After bringing astronaut trainees to an altitude of over 10,000 meters (32,000 feet), the plane begins flying in a parabolic arc. This consists of it climbing and falling, over and over, which causes the trainees to experience the feeling of weightlessness whenever the plane is falling. The name “vomit comet” (obviously) arises from the fact that passengers tend to lose their lunch in the process.

The Soviet-era space program also conducted weightlessness training, which Roscomos has continued since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since 1984, the European Space Agency (ESA) has also conducts parabolic flights using a specially-modified Airbus A300 B2 aircraft. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has done the same since it was founded in 1989, relying on the Falcon 20 twin-engine jet.

Given the fact that NASA has been sending astronauts into space for nearly 60 years, they have certainly accrued a lot of experience in dealing with the effects of weightlessness. Over the short-term, these include space adaptation syndrome (SAS), which is also known as “space sickness”. True to its name, the symptoms of SAS include nausea and vomiting, vertigo, headaches, lethargy, and an overall feeling of unease.

Hawking has experienced zero gravity before, when he flew on Zero Gravity Corp’s modified Boeing 727 in 2007. Credit: Jim Campbell/Aero-News Network

Roughly 45% of all people who have flown in space have suffered from space sickness. The duration of varies, but cases have never been shown to exceed 72 hours, after which the body adapts to the new environment. And with the benefit of training, which includes acclimating to what weightlessness feels like, both the onset and duration can be mitigated.

Beyond NASA and other space agencies, private companies have also offered reduced gravity training to private customers. In 2004, the Zero Gravity Corporation (Zero-G, based in Arlington, Virginia) became the first company in the US to offer parabolic flights using a converted Boeing 727. In 2008, the company was acquired by Space Adventures, another Virginia-based space tourism company.

Much like Virgin Galactic, Space Adventures began offering clients advance bookings for sub-orbital flights, and has since expanded their vision to include lunar spaceflights. As such, the Zero-G experience has become their training platform, allowing clients the ability to experience weightlessness before going into space. In addition, some of the 700 clients who have already booked tickets with Virgin Galactic have used this same training method to prepare.

Similarly, Virgin Galactic is taking steps to prepare its astronauts for the day when they begin making regular flights into sub-orbit. According to the company, this will consist of astronauts taking part in a three day pre-flight preparation program that will be conducted onsite at Spaceport America – Virgin Galactic’s spaceflight facility, located in New Mexico.

Aside from microgravity, their astronaut training will also emphasize how to function when experiencing macrogravity (i.e. multi-g forces), which occur during periods of acceleration. The training will also include medical check-ups, psychological evaluations, and other forms of pre-flight prepation – much in the same way that regular astronauts are prepared for their journey. As they state on their website:

“Pre-flight preparation will ensure that each astronaut is mentally and physically prepared to savor every second of the spaceflight. Basic emergency response training prescribed by our regulators will be at the forefront. Activities to aid familiarity with the spaceflight environment will follow a close second.”

Blue Origin, meanwhile, has also been addressing concerns with regards to its plan to start sending tourists into suborbit in their New Shepard system. After launching from their pad outside of El Paso, Texas, the rocket will fly customers to an altitude of 100 km (62 mi) above the Earth. During this phase, the passengers will experience 3 Gs of acceleration – i.e. three times what they are used to.

Once it reaches space, the capsule will then detach from the rocket. During this time, the passengers will experience a few minutes of weightlessness. Between the intense acceleration and the feeling of freefall, many have wondered if potential clients should be worried about space sickness. These questions have been addressed by former NASA astronaut Nicholas Patrick, who now serves as Blue Origin’s human integration architect.

During an interview with Geekwire in January of 2017, he indicated that they plan to provide barf bags for customers to tuck into their flight suits, just in case. This is similar to what astronauts do aboard the International Space Station (see video above) and during long-term spaceflights. When asked about what customers could do to prepare for space sickness, he also emphasized that some training would be provided:

“It’s a short flight, so we won’t be asking people to train for a year, the way NASA astronauts trained for a shuttle flight, or three years, the way they train for a long space station mission. We’re going to get this training down to a matter of days, or less. That’s because we don’t have very many tasks. You need to know how to get out of your seat gracefully, and back into your seat safely.

“We’ll teach you a few safety procedures, like how to use the fire extinguisher – and maybe how to use the communication system, although that will come naturally to many people. What we’ll probably spend some time on is training people how to enjoy it. What are they going to take with them and use up there? How are they going to play? How are they going to experiment? Not too much training, just enough to have fun.”

“Getting sick to your stomach can be a problem on zero-G airplane flights like NASA’s “Vomit Comet,” but motion sickness typically doesn’t come up until you’ve gone through several rounds of zero-G. Blue Origin’s suborbital space ride lasts only 11 minutes, with a single four-minute dose of weightlessness.”

Bezos also addressed these questions in early April during the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, where his company was showcasing the New Shepard crew capsule. Here too, audience members had questions about what passengers should do if they felt the need to vomit (among the other things) in space.

“They don’t throw up right away,” he said, referring to astronauts succumbing to space sickness. “We’re not going to worry about it… It takes about three hours before you start to throw up. It’s a delayed effect. And this journey takes ten or eleven minutes. So you’re going to be fine.”

On April 27th, during a special Q&A session of Twitch Science Week, Universe Today’s own Fraser Cain took part in a panel discussion about the future of space exploration. Among the panelists were and Ariane Cornell, the head of Astronaut Strategy and Sales for Blue Origin. When the subject of training and etiquette came up, she described the compact process Blue Origins intends to implement to prepare customers for their flight:

“[T]he day before flight is when we give you a full – intense, but very fun – day of training. So they are going to teach you all the crucial things that you need. So ingress, how do you get into the capsule, how do you buckle in. Egress, how do you get out of the seat, out of the hatch. We’re going to teach you some emergency procedures, because we want to make sure that you guys are prepared, and feel comfortable. We’re also going to teach you about zero-g etiquette, so then when we’re all up there and we’re doing our somersaults, you know… no Matrix scenes, no Kung Fu fighting – you gotta make sure that everybody gets to enjoy the flight.”

When asked (by Fraser) if people should skip breakfast, she replied:

“No. It’s the most important meal of the day. You’re going to want to have your energy and we’re pretty confident that you’re going to have a good ride and you’re not going to feel nauseous. It’s one parabola. And when we’ve seen people, for example, when they go on rides on NASA’s “Vomit Comet”… What we’ve seen from those types of parabolic flights is that people – if they get sick – its parabola six, seven, eight. It’s a delayed effect, really. We think that with that one parabola – four minutes – you’re going to enjoy every second of it.”

Another interesting issue was addressed during the 33rd Space Symposium was whether or not the New Shepard capsule would have “facilities”. When asked about this, Bezos was similarly optimistic. “Go to the bathroom in advance,” he said, to general laughter. “If you have to pee in 11 minutes, you got problems.” He did admit that with boarding, the entire experience could take up to 41 minutes, but that passengers should be able to wait that long (fingers crossed!)

But in the event of longer flights, bathroom etiquette will need to be an issue. After all, its not exactly easy to relieve oneself in an environment where all things – solid and liquid – float freely and therefore cannot simply be flushed away. Luckily, NASA and other space agencies have us covered there too. Aboard the ISS, where astronauts have to relieve themselves regularly, waste-disposal is handled by “zero-g toilets”.

Similar to what astronauts used aboard the Space Shuttle, a zero-g toilet involves an astronaut fastening themselves to the toilet seat. Rather than using water, the removal of waste is accomplished with a vacuum suction hole. Liquid waste is transferred to the Water Recovery System, where it is converted back into drinking water (that’s right, astronauts drink their own pee… sort of).

Solid waste is collected in individual bags that are stored in an aluminum container, which are then transferred to the docked spacecraft for disposal. Remember that scene in The Martian where Mark Watney collected his crew members solid waste to use as fertilizer? Well, its much the same. Poo in a bag, and then let someone remove it and deal with it once you get home.

When it comes to lunar tourism, space sickness and waste disposal will be a must. And when it comes to Elon Musk’s plan to start ferrying people to Mars in the coming decades – aboard his Interplanetary Transportation System – it will be an absolute must! It will certainly be interesting to see how those who intend to get into the lunar tourism biz, and those who want to colonize Mars, will go about addressing these needs.

In the meantime, keep your eyes on the horizon, keep your barf bags handy, and make sure your zero-g toilet has a tight seal!


Space executives ask for updated regulations, more aid


A Falcon 9 rocket briefly fired its nine Merlin main engines at Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday, April 25, 2017 ahead of a planned launch. Emre Kelly

WASHINGTON – Out-of-date regulations, a looming backlog of license applications and a lack of viable destinations in Low Earth Orbit threaten to hamper the nation’s burgeoning commercial space industry.

That’s what several commercial space executives on Wednesday told a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee panel overseeing the space program.

What they want is a government assist when it comes to helping companies develop technologies, handle the growing volume of launches, and extend liability and intellectual property protections. What they also want is for government to streamline and simplify regulations they say are already proving cumbersome.

For example, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Air Force, two agencies in charge of licensing commercial space activities, need to update regulations that recognize the industry’s growing use of reusable rockets, Rob Meyerson, president of Blue Origin, told committee members.

The company, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, will begin flying test pilots next year on suborbital rides of its New Shepard reusable booster and capsule.

While pursuing an FAA launch license of its New Glenn spacecraft recently at a federal range, Blue Origin officials found they had to comply with an “entirely different but equally rigorous” set of regulations for both the FAA and the Air Force for the same vehicle.

“This is duplicative and onerous and will increase costs, delays and uncertainty,” Meyerson told senators.

Robert Bigelow, whose Bigelow Aerospace builds inflatable space habitats, said he’s worried there aren’t enough destinations in the Low Earth Orbit aside from the International Space Station. He wants to help develop a “lunar depot” that would orbit the moon and enable access to the lunar surface.

The industry needs places to test transportation systems, try out operating networks and conduct experiments. And it needs customers willing to pay for such services, he told senators.

“NASA is too focused on just transportation systems to the ISS,” Bigelow said. “Whether the (space station) continues or not, additional destinations besides the ISS are vital to sustain a viable space crew and cargo enterprise with new markets that eventually will replace the (orbiting lab).

Others who testified also said the FAA office that reviews and issues commercial launch licenses needs a boost in staffing given the impending increase of applications aerospace firms are expected to file in the coming years.

And they want the government to permanently extend indemnification protections to insure companies if a mishap causes catastrophic third-party losses. The current protections expire in 2025. And they want to ensure any intellectual property developed by U.S. companies while they’re in space belongs to the company.

It wasn’t just a gripe session.

They praised NASA’s use of Space Act agreements that give commercial space firms more flexibility than traditional government contracts.

And the aerospace executives were appreciative of the gains made under the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act Congress passed in 2015 that has helped accelerate the number of commercial launches in recent months, and paved the way for dozens more to come.

That law extended the life of the space station to 2024, provided U.S. citizens who collect materials from asteroids the right to keep those samples, and gave companies more time to meet certain safety standards so they can develop technology and work through issues without potentially costly and burdensome rules.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, the top Democrat on the panel, told them the steps forward must be pragmatic.

“We all know challenges exist but the key to success here is balance,” said Nelson, whose home state has seen a commercial activity spike at Cape Canaveral. “Balance between public and private space endeavors, between competition and cooperation, (and) between risk and public safety.”

Contact Ledyard King at; Twitter: @ledgeking

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Blue Origin and other space companies urge Congress to boost FAA's funding

Blue Origin New Shepard liftoffBlue Origin’s New Shepard prototype spaceship blasts off in January 2016. (Blue Origin Photo)

When senators asked executives from Blue Origin and other commercial space ventures what they could do to help them at a Senate hearing today, they received an unusual reply: Give more money to the regulators at the Federal Aviation Administration.

“”It may be rare for companies to be pushing for more funding for their regulators, but we really think this is a case where it could be a good investment for the country,” Virgin Galactic CEO George T. Whitesides said during a Senate space subcommittee hearing.

The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, also known as AST, is responsible for regulating and encouraging development of private-sector launch companies such as Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX.

AST’s budget for the current fiscal year is just a little less than $20 million, or just a little more than 0.1 percent of the FAA’s total budget of $15.9 billion.

As more commercial operators are entering the space business, AST is having to ramp up its regulatory machinery to handle the upswing. And the commercial operators say they’re feeling the bottleneck.

Rob Meyerson, the president of Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin venture, urged Congress to increase AST’s budget “to allow the office to operate as a responsive and effective agency.”

He also said AST should tighten its focus on the launch industry, rather that expanding its mandate.

“We believe AST’s resources are insufficient to meet its existing operations, and do not believe AST should take on new authorities now, such as on-orbit authority, space situational awareness or space traffic management,” Meyerson said. “We want to work with AST on the impending licensing traffic jam before they start taking on orbital traffic jams.”

Meyerson also complained about “conflicting expectations” on the regulatory process from the U.S. Air Force and the FAA as Blue Origin prepares to license its New Glenn orbital rocket. He said the two sets of requirements for reusable rockets were “completely different.”

“This is duplicative and onerous, and will increase costs, delays and uncertainty,” Meyerson said.

Meyerson said AST should become the single point of regulatory contact for commercial launches, regardless of the location or type of launch.

Robert Bigelow, the billionaire founder of Nevada-based Bigelow Aerospace, touted his company’s progress in building expandable space modules. The hotel magnate said he’s put more than $350 million into his space venture, and he aims to produce two flight-ready, 330-cubic-meter modules by 2020..

Revisiting the Outer Space Treaty

Bigelow focused his testimony on the potential for reviewing and revising the Outer Space Treaty, a 50-year-old pact that rules out assertions of sovereignty on celestial bodies beyond Earth. The treaty has become a point of debate now that commercial ventures – including Planetary Resources in Redmond, Wash. – have begun looking into space resource extraction.

In Bigelow’s view, the treaty doesn’t rule out setting up bases on the moon or other planets, even if they have a military purpose. “One base could be the size of Texas, because there is nothing in that treaty that says it couldn’t be,” he said.

Bigelow voiced concern that China could lay claim to lunar territory – a scenario he’s been talking about for years. “I don’t think it’s a joke,” he told the senators. “It’s not something to be cavalier about.”

Updating the treaty would provide an opportunity to add provisions that are more specific about establishing bases beyond Earth, and setting up non-interference zones around those bases. That would give a boost to commercial activity on the moon and other places in space, Bigelow said.

The subcommittee’s chairman, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was sympathetic to the idea of revisiting the treaty. “It’s important that Congress evaluate how that treaty, enacted 50 years ago, will impact new and innovative activity within space as well as potential settlement throughout the galaxy,” he said.

No trade war with Mars

Andrew Rush, CEO of Made In Space, praised NASA’s role in supporting his company’s work on 3-D printers in space and an in-space method for manufacturing optical fiber more economically.

Rush said one way that Congress could help space entrepreneurs would be to draw up a plan for making the transition from the International Space Station, to dedicated commercial modules, to free-flying commercial space platforms.

He also said Congress should ensure that goods manufactured in space and brought down to Earth aren’t hit with import taxes or customs duties. That comment sparked a bit of political repartee involving Cruz and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

“I certainly hope we would not trigger reciprocal tariffs on Mars,” Cruz quipped.

“Or a border adjustment tax,” Nelson added.

Amazon's Founder Wants to Deliver Supplies to the Moon

In Brief
  • Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, wants to use Blue Origins’ lunar lander “Blue Moon” to bring equipment to astronauts on the Moon.
  • As the competition between Blue Origin and SpaceX to get to the Moon continues, who knows what this effort will lead to.

Amazon on the Moon

In recent, “are you serious?” news, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, wants to create an ‘Amazon-like’ service to deliver equipment and supplies to the Moon. Bezos wants to combine his other company, aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight organization Blue Origin, with the delivery principles of Amazon to deliver a one-of-a-kind service.

*3* Amazon Founder Wants to Deliver to the Moon

Following the private sector rush to the Moon sparked by Elon Musk of SpaceX, Bezos thinks that their lunar lander “Blue Moon” will be able to start delivering supplies to the Moon by the mid 2020’s. Blue Moon is expected to carry up to 453.5 kg (10,000 lbs) of cargo per trip. Because of this capacity, the lander would be capable of carrying rovers and scientific equipment. And so, while this endeavor seems strange and a little bit silly, it could, in theory, be an inventive way to help further research.

Big Plans

Bezos has expressed his passion for not only increasing travel to the Moon but also the possibility of a permanent lunar settlement. In his own words, in an email to the Washington Post:

“It is time for America to return to the Moon — this time to stay. A permanently inhabited lunar settlement is a difficult and worthy objective. I sense a lot of people are excited about this…
Our liquid hydrogen expertise and experience with precision vertical landing offer the fastest path to a lunar lander mission. I’m excited about this and am ready to invest my own money alongside NASA to make it happen.”

It is impossible to say whether or not this plan will be successful but…who knows, astronauts could soon have rovers delivered to them with the click of a button. I wonder if they’ll get prime.

Awe-inspiring photos of Earth remind us just what's at stake

A 1992 image from the Galileo spacecraft of the Moon orbiting the Earth.
A 1992 image from the Galileo spacecraft of the Moon orbiting the Earth.
Image: NASA

Millions of people came out this Earth Day to clean up and care for the planet. But space agencies and companies took a different approach, choosing to celebrate our Earth from up above.

SpaceX on Saturday shared a breathtaking image captured during the recent launch of its SES-10 communications satellite. 

Elon Musk’s private spaceflight company made history in late March when it reused a previously flown Falcon 9 booster to launch the satellite over Central and South America.

NASA also posted plenty of Earth-centric images taken during previous missions. 

Its “Postcards from Home” collection, first assembled for 2015’s Earth Day, includes snapshots from the unmanned Galileo spacecraft, the moon-mapping Clementine mission, and even the Apollo 8 mission in 1968. That mission’s iconic “Earthrise” images show our planet peeking out from beyond the Moon’s surface as the first crewed spacecraft circumnavigated the Moon.

Astronauts from the International Space Station (ISS), European Space Agency, and Canadian Space Agency shared their own awe-inspiring views of the giant orb we call home.

Picking up trash, planting trees, and marching to defend scientific research all benefit our planet in real, tangible ways.

But images like these help us appreciate just what’s at stake, even from millions of miles away.

WATCH: Neil deGrasse Tyson explains if we can dump our trash on the moon

How Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Is Funding Blue Origin

“My business model right now … is I sell about $1 billion of Amazon stock a year and I use it to invest in Blue Origin.” CEO (and Blue Origin founder) Jeff Bezos 

Up 46% in 52 weeks, (NASDAQ: AMZN) stock is one of the best performers on the stock market. That’s good news for founder Jeff Bezos, who according to S&P Global Market Intelligence owns 81 million of Amazon’s 428 million shares outstanding (about 19%).

Amazon’s exponentially expanding stock price recently catapulted Bezos all the way from No. 15 on Forbes‘ 2015 list of billionaires to No. 3 as of this writing — leapfrogging Warren Buffett to land just behind Amancio Ortega (Europe’s richest man) and Bill Gates (America’s own). But Amazon’s rocketing share price has had another beneficial effect as well: It’s given Bezos the money he needs to build actual rockets.’s Jeff Bezos morphs into the Rocketeer. Image source: Blue Origin.

More money, more aspirations

You’ve probably heard about Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin project. In rough parallel with fellow billionaire Elon Musk at SpaceX, Bezos is building a fleet of reusable rockets that could, as soon as 2018, begin launching paying space tourists to the edge of space to take an alien’s-eye view of the globe. He’s also building even bigger rockets capable of reaching orbital speeds, which could one day vie with Musk’s SpaceX to deliver cargo to Earth orbit — or even to the Moon.

But such aspirations don’t come cheap. In fact, Bezos anticipates spending upward of $2.5 billion to complete development of his latest rocket, dubbed New Glenn. To fund this work, Bezos is willing to sell $1 billion worth of Amazon stock per year — and seems to be saying he’ll keep doing these sales every year, for the foreseeable future, until the job is done.

Luckily, he has about $72.2 billion worth of Amazon stock available to do just that.

What $1 billion buys

What will Bezos get for his money? Well, he already has a New Shepard suborbital launch vehicle that has completed five round trips from Earth to the edge of space and back again, without a single failure. (Take that, Elon Musk!)

Bezos also has a new rocket factory under construction in Florida, a gigantic 750,000 square-foot space emporium. There, Bezos plans to build additional New Shepard-class rocketships for tourism, larger New Glenn-class orbital rockets for cargo delivery, and an even bigger New Armstrong rocket (details unknown). Along the way, he may also build a hybrid rocket incorporating a New Shepard-like first stage, topped with a smaller second stage to boost small satellites into orbit.

Additionally, Bezos has confirmed plans to develop a lunar lander, dubbed “Blue Moon,” that he hopes to market to NASA as a means of sending supplies needed to build a future Moon base, and of returning lunar mineral and water samples to Earth as well. Bezos says he can have such a craft ready for operation as early as mid-2020 — if NASA is interested. And since Bezos plans to send the lander to the Moon by way of New Glenn, this would imply that Bezos believes New Glenn itself will be ready for at least unmanned missions by 2020.

What it means for investors

The space race is heating up. It’s disheartening to see that most of the “new-space” companies making headlines today are privately held, and thus off-limits to stock investors — but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the development.

More companies developing more ways to get to space will necessarily introduce more competition for established space giants like Boeing (NYSE: BA), Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT), and Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA). With that increased competition will come price pressure that will squeeze the profit margins of the incumbent providers — indeed, it’s forcing price cuts and squeezing margins already at Boeing and Lockheed today.

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So what do all these developments mean for investors? In the short term, owners of Boeing, Lockheed, and Orbital ATK stock need to keep a close eye on margins at the companies’ respective space divisions. And longer term? Just cross your fingers and hope that one day soon the disruptors that are upsetting the incumbents’ business model will go public — and give us a chance to invest in the real winners of this new space race.

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Rich Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool recommends Orbital ATK. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

SpaceX celebrates Earth Day by releasing photograph of the planet from space

To celebrate Earth Day, SpaceX released an out of this world photo.

The photo was taken from a communications satellite.

NASA also showed off the Earth in an awesome video.

The view was from the International Space Station.

Watch the video above to see the view!

(Copyright (c) 2017 Sunbeam Television. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)