A mysterious missile launch, or at least the remaining contrail, could be seen by ISS astronauts who took pictures of the strange cloud. Considering NASA has been mostly closed by the government shutdown and no private companies in the US, the astronauts were understandably surprised.
One crewman on the International Space Station, ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano, took pictures of the odd contrails as seen from orbit and posted them on Twitter. NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins also tweeted about the strange cloud. As Discovery News reports, Russia and Europe were not known at the time to have any planned missile launches.
After doing some digging, Universe Today found the source of the mystery missile launch. Turns out Russian forces were conducing tests of a new intercontinental ballistic missile (or, ICBM) named the Topol/SS-25. The launch was to “test new combat payloads” for Russia’s latest ICBMs.
As Discovery points out, the ICBM test is an ironic way for Russia to commemorate the end of World Space Week, an anniversary celebration of the Outer Space Treaty. This treaty, first signed in 1967 by the US and the Soviet Union, bans the placement or use of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or elsewhere in space.
Maybe with this in mind, the ISS crew had an especially good reason for alarm. However Russian officials say there is no cause for concern over the missile test, which they say was a success. The test missile launch came from Russia’s Kapustin Yar facility outside Volgograd, hitting a target site in Kazakhstan.
At the time the International Space Station was in orbit over Iran, moving northeast. At a low sun angle, the astronaut crew could easily see the missile launch cloud and take great pictures without any glare.