Astronauts saw devastation from 250 miles away

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Two weeks after seeing the "heartbreaking" attack on New York City from 250 miles up in space, the commander of the international space station says orbiting Earth has made him appreciate the planet more than ever before.

"For me, flying in space is always an experience that opens my eyes and makes me not take things for granted," the astronaut, Frank Culbertson, said on Tuesday, in his first interview since the terrorist attacks.

"That was brought home on 11 September when, obviously, we have seen the effects of huge disagreements with certain people in the world," he added. "But you can see from up here in space that it's a very small and fragile world in many ways, as solid a rock as it is. And if we don't learn how to work together on it, we're going to have huge problems in the future."

Mr Culbertson and his Russian crewmates, Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin, were orbiting above New York City at the time the second World Trade Centre tower collapsed. They could see a huge plume of smoke billowing from lower Manhattan.

"It was really something to see and very heartbreaking," said Mr Culbertson, a retired Navy captain. His colleague, Mr Dezhurov, a Russian air force officer, was equally shocked. "It was a very difficult time, I think, for everybody and it was for us also," he said.

The three men moved into space station Alpha a few weeks ago as its third resident crew. The Endeavour space shuttle is due to arrive with a replacement crew in December.

The space station's main oxygen generator shut down on Monday and a humidity- removal unit stopped working on Tuesday. Both systems are on the Russian side of the orbiting unit. Nasa said the breathing atmosphere inside the space station was fine despite the breakdowns and the astronauts could use back-up methods.