30 breathtaking images from NASA's public library
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 2017 opened the digital doors to its image and video library website, allowing the public to access more than 140,000 images, videos, and audio files. The collection provides unprecedented views of space. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic Moon landing, interest in what exists beyond our planet has reached a fever pitch and NASA is feeding public curiosity about its research and missions.
While work on robotic and human spaceflight already existed, a quick entry into the Space Race with the Soviet Union was deemed critical. NASA officially began operations on Oct. 1, 1958, as the primary organization for U.S. civil aerospace research and development. In just 11 years, NASA landed the first human on the moon in 1969.
In the 1970s, the focus shifted to developing a space station. Skylab was launched, unmanned, in May 1973. Three crewed missions followed during the next seven months to repair the station and conduct experiments. The first international space station partnership was the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975, which brought American and Soviet crews together.
The space shuttle program became fully realized in April 1981 with the manned launch of the Columbia. In 135 missions flown with five shuttles, there were two catastrophic accidents—Challenger and Columbia. Discovery delivered the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit. The 30-year shuttle program was significant in setting the foundation for future Earth-to-orbit transportation and sustained space stays.
Shuttle technology led to the construction of the International Space Station, the largest structure humans have put into space. Two hundred thirty people from 18 countries have lived there since 2000, conducting experiments and documenting life in space.
Achievements like these make up the substance of the NASA Image and Video Library, featuring the best of the agency’s work in aeronautics, astrophysics, Earth science, human spaceflight, and more. Updated in 2019, the library is searchable, includes historical and current images; and all assets are downloadable. Stacker combed through the abundant collection to find the 30 most breathtaking images.
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The moon from Apollo 11
On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin made history by landing on the moon while pilot Michael Collins remained in lunar orbit. While returning home on July 21, the crew captured this picture of the full moon. Earth’s only natural satellite, it circles us from an average distance of 238,900 miles away.
Earth from the International Space Station
An astronaut aboard the International Space Station shot a picture of Earth from 250 miles over Australia. Airglow—the orange hue—comprises diffuse bands of light created by atoms colliding in the atmosphere near the interface of Earth and space. Studying airglow is helping scientists to understand the connections between Earth weather and space weather.
Hurricanes on Earth
Several large hurricanes were brewing in the Atlantic Ocean in September 2017. By assembling several images taken in one day by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, NASA could provide a vibrant look at this weather pattern. Views like this help communities make decisions about disaster preparedness, response, and recovery.
Shuttle space walk
In 2006, NASA astronaut Robert L. Curbeam Jr. and European Space Agency astronaut Christer Fuglesang continued construction on the International Space Station (ISS). Below them lie New Zealand and Cook Strait in the Pacific Ocean. The ISS must be maintained and repaired regularly so that its inhabitants can complete missions and experiments through at least 2024.
Shuttle in silhouette
An ISS crewmember captured a picture of the space shuttle Endeavour as it neared docking in February 2010. It was Endeavour’s 10th flight to the ISS with the mission of delivering Tranquility (a berthing, life support, and exercise module) and Cupola (a robotics work station).
Eruption on the sun
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory documented a dramatic solar event on March 2, 2012. This explosion, appearing on the right side of the sun in the photograph, is called a “prominence eruption.” The prominence is made up of plasma—matter in an ultra-high-energy state even more volatile than gas—and can loop thousands of miles into space.
Raikoke volcano eruption
Raikoke Volcano sits on the remote Kuril Islands in the Pacific Ocean. On June 22, 2019, an ISS crew member captured an image of the volcanic plume of Raikoke’s first eruption in almost one hundred years. NASA satellites tracked the plume for activity that might affect aviation and climate.
The Curiosity Mars rover provided a selfie as part of its 1,065th day of work on Aug. 5, 2015. A combination of multiple images taken by its Hand Lens Imager, the picture shows Curiosity on a rock called “Buckskin” on Mount Sharp. The mission to drill into Buckskin and collect a sample for analysis was successful in finding silica, which may show that liquid water once existed on Mars.
Cargo craft docks
The unmanned Cygnus cargo craft—the SS John Young—was photographed attaching itself to the International Space Station in November 2018 with a delivery of 7,400 pounds of supplies. The spacecraft was named after John Young, NASA’s longest-serving astronaut, who was an integral part of missions to the moon and the space shuttle program.
John Young on the moon
As part of the first extravehicular activity of its mission, Apollo 16 commander John W. Young jumps off the lunar surface while saluting the American flag in April 1972. The fifth mission to land on the moon, Apollo 16 spent over 20 hours on the surface, drove 16.6 miles in the lunar rover, and returned with 210 pounds of samples.
The snowy Quebec landscape is illuminated by the stars, the moon, and the aurora borealis in this picture from February 2012. Taken from the ISS, the image also shows airglow along the horizon. The Manicouagan Crater, seen in the lower right, was created by an asteroid impact approximately 214 million years ago.
The cracking Brunt Ice Shelf
In January 2019, NASA captured an image of Antarctica’s Brunt Ice Shelf as it neared a substantial break that will release an iceberg twice the size of New York City. The crack, at the top right of the image, is called the “Halloween crack,” as it first appeared in October 2016.
Cassini’s capture of Saturn
Cassini was in space for 20 years on a mission to explore Saturn and its rings and moons. In 2016, it took several images with a wide-angle camera which were combined to create one full depiction of the planet. Cassini completed its work, having delivered images and science results, by plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere.
The heart of Madagascar
A 2018 photograph of the heart of Madagascar shows great landscape changes in the region as captured from the ISS by NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold. The world’s fourth-largest island is experiencing the decimation of rainforests because of the demand for its unique resources.
The last landing
In 2011, the 30-year space-shuttle program ended as Atlantis touched down at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. With five shuttles and 355 space flyers, the program completed 135 missions. Today, Atlantis is on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitors’ Center.
The eye of the hurricane
The International Space Station captured the eye of a Category 4 hurricane in September 2018. Moving across the Atlantic toward the Carolinas, the hurricane’s winds were clocked at 130 miles per hour. Florence reached landfall on Sept. 14 with record-breaking storm surge and rainfall.
International Space Station
During their separation on July 19, 2011, space shuttle Atlantis took this photograph of the International Space Station. Russian cosmonauts Andrei Borisenko, Sergei Volkov, and Alexander Samokutyayev, Japan Aerospace Exploration astronaut Satoshi Furukawa, and NASA astronauts Mike Fossum and Ron Garan were all aboard the ISS. The shuttle astronauts were Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus, and Rex Walheim.
Watercolor of the sea
Taken from observational satellite Landsat-8 in June 2018, this image of the Chukchi Sea illuminates colorful blooms of phytoplankton. Cool nutrient-rich water from the Bering Sea meet warm, less-salty Alaskan coastal water to create these patterns. The blooms can be seen even through deep Arctic ice cover.
The Great Red Spot of Jupiter
During a close pass of Jupiter in February 2019, NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured the gas giant planet and its Great Red Spot, which is the site of a massive storm on the planet’s surface. This view was created by citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill by compiling multiple images and data from the JunoCam. Juno was launched in 2011 and reached Jupiter in 2016. Its sole mission is to explore, study, and map the planet.
In the Navajo Tribal Park on the border of Arizona and Utah, Monument Valley is one of the most recognizable areas of the American West. Red-rock formations and sandstone towers rise hundreds of feet above its sandy floor. The Operational Land Imager on Landsat-8 captured the elevation differences of the Valley in November 2016.
Flying through an aurora
Flying 200 miles above Earth has given the crew members on the International Space Station the opportunity to document the changes and events on their home planet from the Station’s unique perspective. In August 2014, the ISS flew through a green aurora. An aurora is observed when charged electrons from solar wind interact with Earth’s atmosphere.
Pillars of Creation
The Pillars of Creation are part of the Eagle Nebula, approximately 5,700 light years from Earth. This composite image uses data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope. The Pillars area of the nebula is an active star-forming region.
Total eclipse of the sun
The total solar eclipse of the sun on Aug. 21, 2017, offered a rare opportunity for NASA to collect data on the Earth-sun connection. Its long, uninterrupted path over land, starting at the Oregon coast where this image was captured, provided more time for scientists to study the sun’s corona.
Untethered in space
In 1984, Mission Specialist Bruce McCandless II took the historic first untethered spacewalk. Floating a few meters away from Space Shuttle Challenger, he spent four hours in the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU). McCandless logged over 312 hours in space during his long career with NASA.
Pluto’s color variations were captured by NASA’s New Horizons space probe in 2015. The enhanced image shows the marbling effect of the dwarf planet’s diverse landforms. Pluto has mountains and plains, with blue skies as well as ice and red snow.
The wild river
Captured by European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet in 2017, this image shows the 1,400-mile Dnieper River in snowy, icy February. The river runs from Russia to the Black Sea. The International Space Station orbits Earth 16 times each day and is keeping a visual record of our ever-changing planet.
Supermassive black hole
This computer-simulated image shows a supermassive black hole, weighing 17 billion suns, discovered in a sparsely populated area of the universe with the NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the Gemini Telescope in Hawaii. Black holes were previously believed to be located in very large galaxies in densely populated clusters. The black region in the center is the event horizon, where no light can escape from the black hole’s powerful gravity.
The space selfie
During a spacewalk to do maintenance on the International Space Station in March 2019, astronaut Nick Hague took a selfie. Documenting his first spacewalk, Hague was 250 miles above Earth. It wasn’t the first space selfie, though. Buzz Aldrin claimed that achievement during his moon walk in 1969.
An SLS test article
NASA’s current focus is on the Space Launch System (SLS), a powerful rocket system to enable exploration far into the solar system. The rocket is intended to send Artemis 1, and the first woman lunar explorer, to the moon by 2024. In June 2019, the last structural test article for the SLS—a liquid oxygen tank—was loaded onto a barge in New Orleans for delivery to the Marshall Flight Center in Alabama for testing.