A SpaceX Crew-3 astronaut says the Ukraine war is 'clearly visible' from space

War feels 'a hundred times more irrational' when viewed from space.
Chris Young
Maurer during a spacewalk (left) and a Maxar satellite image of Ukraine (right).1, 2

Satellite images taken from space have been vital in reporting the war in Ukraine, and they have even helped to debunk disinformation spread since the start of Russia's invasion in late February.

While satellites — such as those used by Maxar Technologies to help document the war — are equipped with powerful cameras that can zoom into vast regions, it turns out the conflict is also visible to the naked eye from orbital space.

"When you're in space, you feel so far away at first," European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer, who recently returned from his 177-day stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS), told German broadcaster ARD, as per Futurism.

But the invasion "was clearly visible to the naked eye from space," he explained, saying he could see it in the form of "huge black columns of smoke over cities like Mariupol", a port city that has been a focal point for the Russian invasion.

Traveling at a speed of five miles per second, the ISS orbits the Earth roughly once every 90 minutes, meaning Maurer would have had a good view over Ukraine on many occasions during his more than 100-day stay. "At the beginning of the war, the whole country went dark at night," Maurer explained to ARD. "In Kyiv, you could see [what looked like] lightning at night," as rockets impacted their targets in the capital city.

The ISS crew could see 'terrible things were happening' in Ukraine

Maurer, who returned from the ISS earlier this month, said that all of the crew, including Russian Roscosmos cosmonauts aboard at the time, agreed that "terrible things are happening in Ukraine.

The SpaceX and ESA astronaut also suggested the ISS crew's unique perspective over Earth, and the resulting Overview Effect, makes the decision to go to war feel even more heinous and baffling. "War seen from above is a hundred times more irrational than from the ground," Maurer said. "Why don't we humans stick together?" 

Roscosmos cosmonauts have shown signs of unity with their western colleagues recently. In March, a crew of cosmonauts boarded the ISS wearing yellow and blue uniforms matching the colors of the Ukrainian flag in an apparent show of support.

Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin has been less supportive, claiming that Russia will soon leave the ISS, having previously stated that it would only remain after the "unconditional lifting of illegal sanctions" imposed following the start of Russia's invasion. He also famously said that the U.S. could launch to space aboard "American broomsticks" as it would cease to provide access to Russian Soyuz rocket launches for future space operations.

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