A smoke plume rises from lower Manhattan in this photo by Expedition 3 Commander Frank Culbertson on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
Astronaut Frank Culbertson was the only American not on Earth during the attacks on September 11. His location made for the most unique vantage point on the fateful day.
Culbertson was aboard the International Space Station, 220 miles above Earth at the time of the attacks, accompanied by Russian cosmonauts, Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tvurin.
As the space station happened to be passing over New York at the very time two planes hit the Twin Towers, he was able to witness plumes of smoke emitting from the geographical view of lower Manhattan.
While listening to reports via radio from a NASA flight surgeon, Culbertson began to write down his thoughts and feelings.
"I was flabbergasted, then horrified. My first thought was that this wasn't a real conversation, that I was still listening to one of my Tom Clancy tapes," Culbertson wrote in reaction.
"It just didn't seem possible on this scale in our country. I couldn't even imagine the particulars, even before the news of further destruction began coming in."
On Friday, NASA released the letters Culbertson wrote of his account in witnessing the September 11 attacks from space as well as accompanying photos and video, in commemoration of the ten-year anniversary of the attacks.
The photos and video depict a gargantuan trail of smoke that went far past Brooklyn, New York.
"It's horrible to see smoke pouring from wounds in your own country from such a fantastic vantage point. The dichotomy of being on a spacecraft dedicated to improving life on the earth and watching life being destroyed by such willful, terrible acts is jolting to the psyche, no matter who you are," he wrote.
However, while capturing video during the fall of the second Tower, Culbertson spoke words of encouragement to New Yorkers that have only just been released.
“I just wanted the folks to know that their city still looks beautiful from space. I know it must be difficult for everybody in America right now. The country still looks good and New York still looks great from up here,” he said.
A day later, Culbertson expressed the immense sense of isolation he felt being so far away from home.
"It's difficult to describe how it feels to be the only American completely off the planet at a time such as this. The feeling that I should be there with all of you, dealing with this, helping in some way, is overwhelming," recalled Culbertson.