Spacecraft Images Help Us Understand the World Around Us

Of course, viewing beautiful views from space can give us a sense of scale; but they also help us gain greater insight into our planet – particularly images depicting Earth.

Images captured from space station cameras or telescopes pointed towards Jupiter are truly spectacular.

Space Station

The International Space Station is a unique scientific laboratory in space manned by astronauts and cosmonauts from NASA, Russia, JAXA, ESA, and other international agencies.

While the International Space Station (ISS) is widely known for its groundbreaking research into microgravity, it also serves as a home and spectacular observation platform. Astronauts regularly share stunning pictures from sunsets to colorful aurora displays – something all visitors to ISS should experience for themselves!

This image taken aboard the International Space Station in 2016 depicts Giza from space, taken during EVA-2 with an experimental robot arm.

If you live near the coast, chances are you’ve seen the International Space Station passing overhead at dawn and dusk. NASA offers its Spot The Station tool for tracking its position; an alternative way is spotting it with ground telescopes such as in this photo from Russian space agency.


Coastlines mark the border between land and sea. Be it with waves crashing against them or gently lapping away, coastlines have long played an essential part in shaping landscapes around the world and contributing to ecosystem health. Wave energy creates the unique fractal shapes which define coastlines across timescales.

NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station have taken stunning images of Earth and its planets from space. From faraway, these pictures reveal details such as lunar craters and changes in Great Lakes sea levels over time.

Webb Space Telescope’s infrared view of the Tarantula Nebula unveils an unexplored star-forming region within an hourglass-shaped cloud of gas and dust, as seen through Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) image from its mission’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam). Furthermore, it features protostar L1527 located within its dark hourglass-shaped nebula.


Spacecraft are equipped with cameras for taking pictures of planets and their moons, but also feature other instruments for studying their atmosphere, surface, and subsurface features. Such instruments could include spectrometers that determine chemical composition; radar that penetrates clouds and haze; altimeters that measure distance by timing radio signals reflected off planets or moons; or spectrometers used for chemical analysis.

NASA’s DSCOVR satellite, for instance, made headlines worldwide when it presented us with its first portrait of Earth from an orbit a million miles away – showing it as an insignificant dot against an expansive solar system. This photo echoed Apollo 17’s revolutionary Blue Marble image which revolutionized our understanding of our fragile yet beautiful home planet in black space.

As spacecraft embark on long journeys to distant planets, their mission controllers often instruct them to capture last images of Earth and Moon before heading out on their missions. Here, the camera aboard DART shows its last snapshots of Didymos and Dimorphos before their impact with one another.


NASA recently announced Monday that three NASA veterans and one Canadian astronaut – Reid Wiseman, Christina Koch and Victor Glover will embark on the first piloted lunar voyage since Apollo ended 50 years ago. Alongside veteran crew member Victor Glover will be rookie crew member Jeremy Hansen from Canada who will all fly around the moon during an uncrewed Orion test flight known as Artemis II.

Astronauts train for one to two years at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, learning shuttle and station systems, spacesuits, geology, meteorology, oceanography and astronomy among many other subjects. Astronauts also spend time practicing everything from spacewalking and land survival techniques to operating an astro-robot in simulators.

All four astronauts participating in this mission began as military pilots, similar to many of the Apollo astronauts. Since shuttle missions ended and long-duration stays at ISS have become the norm, the distinction between pilot and mission specialist has diminished considerably.

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