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NASA astronauts identify Earth landmarks the low-tech way

Astronauts on the International Space Station rely on a surprisingly old-fashioned method for figuring out what parts of Earth they've photographed.

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei puts an atlas to good use in space.
Randy Bresnik/NASA

The International Space Station is one of the great technological marvels of our time, but not everything on board could have stepped out of a sci-fi show. Sometimes, the old ways are still the best ways when it comes to identifying unfamiliar landmarks down on Earth. 

NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik tweeted a photo on Sunday of fellow astronaut Mark Vande Hei studying a physical atlas. A laptop sits open in front of Vande Hei and shows an unidentified view of Earth. The astronaut has his finger pointing to part of a map in the book. 

The space station crew members often share Earth views on social media, whether it's a hard-to-capture look at the pyramids in Egypt or strange parallel lines in the snow in Russia. When looking back at the many photos, it's not always immediately obvious exactly which part of the planet they show.  

"When we take a picture of somewhere on Earth we are unfamiliar, @Astro_Sabot shows how we look it up and learn where we were," Bresnik writes.

Finding a large book of maps on the ISS may seem like a surprise, but it's far from being the strangest item we've ever sent into orbit. That honor probably goes to this gorilla suit.