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Friday, 31 August, 2001, 07:27 GMT 08:27 UK
Astronaut sees Earth changes
International Space Station AP
Astronauts can mark change over time
The commander of the International Space Station (ISS) has expressed his concern to the BBC at the impact mankind is having on the Earth's environment.

We have to be very careful how we treat this good Earth we live on

Commander Frank Culbertson
Commander Frank Culbertson - who has just begun a four-month tour on the ISS - told the Radio 4 Today programme he and fellow astronauts had witnessed signs of climatic change.

"We see storms, we see droughts, we saw a dust storm a couple of days ago, in Turkey I think it was, and we have seen hurricanes," he said.

"At night you see cities well lit up in populated parts of the world.

Land usage

"It's quite amazing to see how many people actually live down there and how much effect they are having on the environment and the land we live on."

"It is a cause for concern. Since my first flight in 1990 and this flight, I have seen changes in what comes out of some of the rivers, in land usage.

"We see areas of the world that are being burned to clear land, so we are losing lots of trees.

"There is smoke and dust in wider spread areas than we have seen before, particularly as areas like Africa dry up in certain regions.

"We have to be very careful how we treat this good Earth we live on."

'Global change'

Klaus Topfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, told Today that climate change was a worrying reality.

ISS crew Vladimir Dezhurov, Frank Culbertson and Mikhail Tyurin AP
The station crew have a unique view of the planet
"We have really dramatic change on a global level," he said. "We are losing yearly something like fifteen million hectares of forest, mostly in developing countries.

"It is time to take stock and ask what we have to do to stop these developments."

But he warned other social needs would need to be tackled in order to improve the environment.

"If you cannot combine the fight for a better environment with the fight against poverty, you cannot blame people in Africa for cutting down a tree to burn when they have no fuel."

Experimental mission

Earlier this month, the space shuttle Discovery returned to Earth with three astronauts who spent almost half a year aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Russian commander Yuri Usachev and US astronauts James Voss and Susan Helms lived on the ISS for more than five months.

Discovery left behind the so-called Expedition Three crew - Commander Culbertson and Russian cosmonauts Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin.

The trio will remain on the ISS for four months. The new residents will work on 40 or more planned US and Russian experiments, until they leave in December.

Research will be conducted to look at the effect of space travel on the body, in order to better understand how certain illnesses affect the organs of patients.

Commander Frank Culbertson
"It's a cause for concern"
Klaus Topfer, director of UN environment programme
"There are dramatic changes on a global level"
See also:

22 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Discovery returns from space station
24 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Shuttle completes vital ISS mission
22 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Shuttle astronauts armed and ready
14 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Space station crews change over
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