NASA Johnson has released a remarkable set of images showing the International Space Station (ISS) against the blackness of space.
Although the photographer isn’t named, it seems likely they were captured by recent space station inhabitant Thomas Pesquet during last month’s flyaround of the ISS in a SpaceX Crew Dragon at the start of his journey home after a six-month stay on the facility.
The images show the orbiting outpost from a range of angles and with its solar panels in different positions, giving us a fantastic look at the facility that’s been orbiting Earth 250 miles up for the last 20 years.
The ISS stretches a distance of 356 feet (109 meters), making it just one yard short of the full length of an American football field, including the end zones.
The habitable modules create a combined space that NASA says is larger than a six-bedroom house, and includes sleeping quarters, three bathrooms, a gym, and a 360-degree view bay window known as the Cupola that offers breathtaking views of Earth and beyond.
As the station travels around Earth at around 17,500 mph, the astronauts on board experience 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets in the space of 24 hours. The movement through space also means that the solar arrays are constantly adjusting to the best position for capturing the sun’s rays for energy to power the station.
If you look closely at the images you should be able to spot different spacecraft docked at the station, as well as the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), and even the Cupola (Hint: In the image below, BEAM is the small white object just to the right of the center of the image, with the Cupola directly below it).
The International Space Station usually holds six astronauts who stay for around six months, but occasionally, during mission swaps, the facility might briefly host 10 or more astronauts, or as few as three.
NASA and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, are now entering a new era of space tourism in a bid to commercialize the station, with the facility recently hosting two pairs of visitors on separate missions. Next year three more private citizens will fly to the space station for a short stay, transported to and from the ISS on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.
Due to its age, the ISS may be retired in the next 10 years, though NASA is looking at the possibility of building a new near-Earth space station to replace it.
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