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Camera burns after space stardom


The Nikon D3X is one of the favored cameras for on-orbit imagery.

Space fans are already jumping for joy over today's "ultimate" portraits of the shuttle Endeavour and the International Space Station, but gadget fans will be saddened to hear that the camera behind the photographs was turned into a burned-up hunk of space junk.

Fortunately, the photographer is alive and well, two weeks after enduring what he called a "wild ride" from orbit back to Earth. "We were like shaken with a big hammer!" Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli told reporters during a post-landing news conference.

Nespoli had some pretty sweet hardware with him when he and two crewmates left the space station in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on May 23. NASA said the cameras were provided by the Russians, so it couldn't provide details on the manufacturers. But the good folks on NASASpaceflight.com reported that Nespoli used a Nikon D3X digital camera for the stills (with a 24-120mm lens). He also carried a digital video camera for shooting high-definition movies of the shuttle-station hookup.

Nespoli clicked away for about a half-hour, from an orbital vantage point about 600 feet (200 meters) from the space station. He stowed the cameras' data storage cards in the Soyuz descent module. But the cameras themselves were left in the orbital module, a separate chamber that separates from the descent module and burns up in the atmosphere. That's standard practice for Soyuz re-entries: The astronauts take only what they need and shed the excess baggage to cut down on weight ... even if that excess baggage retails for about $8,000, as was the case for the Nikon.

Before the landing, a variety of reports gave the impression that Nespoli would be carrying the data cards out of the Soyuz with him. But it turned out that the cards were left in the Soyuz and had to go through the Russians' cargo processing procedures, which added to the delay in getting the pictures distributed.

The 54-year-old Nespoli is a veteran of the Italian army as well as an aerospace engineer, private pilot, master parachutist and scuba diver. During the 1980s, he served as a U.N. peacekeeper in Lebanon. Nothing in his resume indicates that photography is anything but a hobby for him, but during his six-month stint on the space station, he made quite a splash as an orbital shooter. Nespoli was one of the most prolific contributors of space photos to the Flickr website. He also brought a high-end stereo camera with him to the space station (the Fujifilm FinePix REAL 3D W1, to be precise) and shot the first 3-D pictures in orbit.


Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli exercises in the International Space Station's Destiny lab. (Use red-blue glasses to see the 3-D effect.)

In honor of Nespoli's photographic prowess, here's a 3-D portrait of the astronaut (red-blue glasses required). What's that? You don't have 3-D specs? I'm pitching in by sending out more than a dozen pairs of red-blue glasses to Cosmic Log readers, but you can also check with these outlets for availability.

Update for 9:30 p.m. ET June 7: This PhotoRadar interview with Nespoli notes that he brought a Nikon D3s and a D2Xs with him into orbit, but this on-orbit status report makes clear that a D3X was aboard the space station as well. So did Nespoli leave those other Nikons on the station? In any case, the space station's crew members still have plenty of cameras onboard ... as they should.  

Update for 11 p.m. ET June 7: Today's 3-D glasses giveaway is fully subscribed, but stay tuned for the next giveaway. I've also added a little more data on Nespoli's camera, with a tip o' the Log to Lee Jay.

Update for 5:45 p.m. ET June 8: Here's a follow-up item on the must-see orbital video released today.

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