The rocky crest of Earth's crust barely peeks out from the planet around it.
At just over 29,000 feet above sea level, Mount Everest's peak reaches the farthest into the sky of any piece of Earth. But when seen from space, even this monster appears just part and parcel with the crust of the planet it is part of. As Russian cosmonaut Valentin Lebedev observed, "How many people dream of conquering Everest, so that they can look down from it, and yet for us from above it was difficult to even locate."
An infographic designed to show the altitude reached by Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo inadvertently does a good job of comparing the height of our tallest mountain with other objects that have reached high above the Earth.
Yet astronauts living on board the International Space Station did manage recently to get a beautiful picture of the mountain from their orbiting perch some 250 miles above the Earth. (The infographic pegs it at 236 but it moves and has recently been closer to 250. Everest, in contrast, rises some five miles over the seas).
Seen from above, more impressive than the mountain's height is its seclusion from the peaks around it. Everest stands tall, but, more noticeably, it stands alone.
Tweeting this picture out, astronaut Ron Garan who lived on the Space Station last year lamented that he had never gotten a good shot of Mt. Everest from space. I asked him why Everest had eluded him and he explained over email: "The answer is quite simple, all the photos we take from space are taken in the crew's own personal time. No time is allotted in our work day normally for Earth pictures. So if we want to capture a specific point on the ground we have to first know exactly when we will fly over that spot, second be available to grab a camera and get to a window, and third have the weather and proper sun angles to get a great shot. Over the course of my six months in space I was never able to get all three of those to align for Mt. Everest." But for Expedition 33, now aboard the station, the stars -- or, rather, the free time and proper lighting -- have finally aligned.
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