EarthKAM (Earth Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students) is a NASA educational outreach program enabling students, teachers, and the public to learn about Earth from the unique perspective of space. During EarthKAM missions (periods when the EarthKAM camera is operational), middle school students around the world request images of specific locations on Earth. The entire collection of EarthKAM images is available in a searchable Sally Ride EarthKAM image archive.

The project was initiated by Dr. Sally Ride (America’s first woman in space) in 1995 and called KidSat. The KidSat camera flew on three space shuttle flights (STS 76, 81, and 86) to test its feasibility. In 1998, the program was deemed successful and renamed EarthKAM. In 2013, NASA renamed the program Sally Ride EarthKAM after the late astronaut, who died in July 2012. The EarthKAM camera flew on two additional space shuttle flights (STS 89 and 99) before moving over to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2001 on Expedition 1. The Sally Ride EarthKAM camera has since been a permanent payload on board the International Space Station and supports approximately four missions annually.

The actual camera used is no longer the Kodak DCS 460 however. As technology changed and digital hardware improved, the DCS 460 was eventually replaced by the Kodak DCS 760c. According to the EarthKam website, a Nikon D2X has been performing the duties of EarthKam since 2011

nasa, nikon, space camera, flown, space shuttle, nikkor, F, F3, small camera, big camera, large camera, F4, F4S, DCS 460, DCS660, DCS760, F5, photo

The diagram below illustrates the hardware configuration for the early EarthKam:

nasa, nikon, space camera, F, FTN, F3, small camera, big camera, large camera, F4, F4 ESC, F4S, EVA, F5, DCS460, DCS660, DCS760, photo

The camera itself was positioned at a window and waited for instructions on when and what to photograph

nasa, nikon, space camera, F, FTN, F3, small camera, big camera, large camera, F4, F4 ESC, F4S, EVA, F5, DCS460, DCS660, DCS760, photo
nasa, nikon, space camera, F, FTN, F3, small camera, big camera, large camera, F4, F4 ESC, F4S, EVA, F5, DCS460, DCS660, DCS760, photo

The process of obtaining images worked using the workflow depicted below:

nasa, nikon, space camera, F, FTN, F3, small camera, big camera, large camera, F4, F4 ESC, F4S, EVA, F5, DCS460, DCS660, DCS760, photo

The following illustration shows how the data was relayed from the school to the Space Station and back. Next time you are wondering why your internet is so slow, keep this graphic in mind...

nasa, nikon, space camera, F, FTN, F3, small camera, big camera, large camera, F4, F4 ESC, F4S, EVA, F5, DCS460, DCS660, DCS760, photo

Research and Photo Credits:
Brian Au JSC/D055
Peter Coeln - Westlicht Photographica