Andre Kuipers Snapped Photo of Lava Crater in Mauritania

Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers snapped the image of the so-called Richat structure in

Mauritania, as the space station flew over the Sahara Desert on the Atlantic Coast of West Africa. Erosion of the various rock layers created the ring-like features that make up the sprawling structure, but according to geologists the origin of the Richat structure remains somewhat mysterious. The photo shows Andre Kuipers’ unique vantage point from the orbiting complex, which flies approximately 240 miles (386 kilometers) above the surface of the Earth. The image was taken on March 7 using a Nikon D2Xs camera. During their months-long stints aboard the International Space Station, astronauts often perform Earth observations for science and public outreach. Space agencies also use photos taken by astronauts to engage students and space enthusiasts in geography, planetary science and human spaceflight. There are currently six people living and working on the space station: Andre Kuipers, Americans Dan Burbank and Don Pettit, and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov, Anatoly Ivanishin and Oleg Kononenko. Burbank is commander of the station’s Expedition 30 mission. Andre Kuipers has flown two space missions: first the DELTA mission in 2004. In May 2009, he served as the backup of Belgian astronaut Frank de Winne, who later became the Expedition 21 commander, during the later part of his six-month mission. On 21 December 2011, Kuipers was launched for his second spaceflight PromISSe on Expedition 30 and Expedition 31. He is almost midway through his six-month stay at the orbiting outpost. Kuipers, Kononenko and Pettit are slated to return to Earth on July 1.