It’s hard to capture amazing photos — the kind that inspire awe and wonder, and freeze, in a split second, a beautiful moment that quickly passes. But if you’re on the International Space Station — like Terry Virts has been — the opportunity for such jaw-dropping shots abounds.
Virts spent 200 days above Earth, making him the 13th most experienced astronaut in history, the Christian Science Monitor reported. And along the way, Terry did something that Neil Armstrong never dreamed of — snapping photos to share with millions back on Earth.
Terry’s photos have amazed his 207,000 followers on Twitter for the duration of his historic stay. He and two others — cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov of Russia and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti with the European Space Agency (ESA) — left their home for Earth on Thursday, landing safely in Kaszakstan.
“We got to spend 200 days in space together, a few bonus days, but you just couldn’t ask for a better group of people to spend this time … with,” Virts said.
Virts and the others’ touchdown marked the end of ISS’s second longest mission in its 15-year history; it’s been crewed continuously. With Terry’s departure, ISS will be handed over to cosmonaut Gennady Padalka. He, Mikhail Kornienko, and NASA’s Scott Kelly will be the 44th expedition crew. Next month, three more will join them — from Russian, Japan, and the U.S.
The mission was historic for another astronaut, Cristoforetti, who also had a knack for taking spectacular photographs. She is the first Italian woman to fly (and drink the first-ever espresso, freshly brewed from a specially-made and delivered ISSpresso coffee machine) in space. And she’s logged more time than any other ESA member.
And while the trio performed numerous and essential scientific experiments during their stay, it’s the photos they snapped along the way that resonate with us the most. They offer a glimpse of our planet most of us will never see for ourselves, and thanks to social media, thousands can share in that remarkable experience simultaneously and instantaneously.
The most incredible of Terry Virts’ snapshots is easily the one he took of the Great Pyramids. However, as the Guardian notes in its caption, it is very hard to actually see the wonder with the naked eye. In Virts’ own admission, it took him six months to capture the shot.
Terry got it on his very last day.
Among his other photos, according to Space.com: An aurora dancing over the Earth, the South China Sea, Mount Ararat, and Namibian sand dunes.
But Cristoforetti is a shutterbug herself, documenting her own journey on Twitter and Flickr both in equally stunning and awe-inspiring photos: Italy lit up at night, the blue green Caribbean, “brush strokes of clouds on the Earth canvas.”
We can only hope that the next crew members on ISS also have a penchant for photography, and if they don’t already have Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, or YouTube accounts, that they sign up promptly.