The Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft with Expedition 36 Commander Pavel Vinogradov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos and Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy of NASA aboard, is seen as it lands in Kazakhstan. The vehicle's retro-rockets fire to soften the impact of landing.
Space Station Astronauts Log One Million Photographs
April 4, 2012 --
Two Russian spacecraft -- a Soyuz and Progress cargo ship -- hang above the Earth, docked to the International Space Station (ISS) while green wisps of auroral activity complete the scene. On any average day, this photograph would be a beautiful reminder of the serenity of space and the ingenuity of mankind. But this isn't any "average" photograph. This is the one millionth photograph taken by astronauts and cosmonauts on board our orbiting outpost. This photo, along with an understated tweet from NASA astronaut Don Pettit, was posted on March 27: "1 millionth ISS photo. Part of time lapse series. Not sure who took it, Dan Burbank or myself. We can't remember pic.twitter.com/MjnkRm2S". In an email to The Atlantic, astronaut Ron Garan explained the details behind this one-millionth photo: "Almost every photo of the Earth is taken in what little free time the crew has (in our off-duty time). The crew does that because it really is enjoyable to share the view of our Earth with the public and we understand that we have a responsibility to do that." As the space station's astronauts have become more connected with Earth via social media platforms like Twitter, some incredible shots of space and life aboard the ISS have been shared with the world. Here are a few of the Discovery News editors' favorites from the "first million ISS photos" we have featured on the site.
Credit: Ron Garan/NASA
The AMS During the final shuttle mission to the ISS, NASA spacewalker Ron Garan, took an exterior shot of the ISS and the recently delivered Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) in the foreground.
MORE: An Astronaut-Eye View of the Space Station
Credit: Ron Garan/NASA
15 Sunsets Every day, the astronauts aboard the ISS see 15 sunrises and 15 sunsets. Here's one sunset that Ron Garan witnessed in 2011.
MORE: An Awe-Inspiring Space Station Odyssey
Credit: NASA/JAXA/Soichi Noguchi
Endeavour Undocks, Leaves Cupola After installing new windows for the ISS -- the cupola pictured left -- shuttle Endeavour undocked and headed home in February 2010.
MORE: Endeavour Undocks, Begins Journey Home
Image credit: Soichi Noguchi/NASA
Making Space Music NASA's Stephen Robinson plays his guitar in the bay of the newly installed cupola in February 2010.
MORE: This Is What It's All About
Colorful Aurora As solar activity intensifies, ISS astronauts have a ringside seat of the stunning auroral displays in the Earth's atmosphere. This September 2011 technicolor display highlights the different atmospheric elements reacting to the bombardment of solar plasma.
MORE: Space Station Watches Technicolor Aurora Erupt
Snaking Aurora Another beautiful auroral scene captured by an ISS astronaut in June 2010 over the southern hemisphere. The green color is caused by the excitement of atmospheric oxygen.
MORE: Spectacular Aurora Ribbon Photographed by Astronaut
Space Meteor! In this stunning photograph by NASA astronaut Ron Garan, a single Perseid meteor was captured as the piece of comet dust slammed into the Earth's atmosphere in August 2011.
MORE: Astronaut Photographs Perseid Meteor... From Space
Comet Lovejoy On Dec. 21, 2011 NASA astronaut Dan Burbank photographed the dazzling comet Lovejoy as it hung above the Earth's horizon. This photo was taken only a few days after its close encounter with the sun. The green haze in the photo is known as "airglow."
MORE: Astronaut Photographs Comet Lovejoy... From Space
Hurricane Irene In August 2011, Hurricane Irene ravaged the U.S. East Coast. From their vantage point, astronauts aboard the ISS have an unparalleled view of our planet, so events like Irene can be closely monitored. It is for this reason why there is an extensive Earth observation program of which ISS astronauts have a large part to play.
MORE: Hurricane Irene from Space
Spacewalking NASA's spacewalking astronaut Mike Fossum points at the camera as he removes a failed ammonia pump module from the ISS during the final shuttle mission to the station in July 2011.
MORE: Inside Atlantis' Final Space Station Mission
Space Station Living There are a huge number of photographs of the Earth and space phenomena, but the collection also features an intimate perspective on life aboard a space station. NASA astronaut Sandy Magnus can be seen here floating inside the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module among with months of ISS supplies during the final shuttle mission.
MORE: Inside Atlantis' Final Space Station Mission
To see more photographs from the space station and other manned NASA missions, be sure to browse the NASA Human Spaceflight gallery.
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A Russian Soyuz spacecraft has returned an American astronauts and two cosmonauts safely back to Earth, capping a five-month trek to the International Space Station.
The Soyuz TMA-08M space capsule carrying NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin touched down at 10:58 p.m. EDT Tuesday (0258 Sept. 11), though it was early Wednesday morning at their landing site on the steppes Kazakhstan in Central Asia.
All three men were reportedly in good spirits after spending 166 days in space, NASA spokesman Rob Navias said from the landing site. They landed in clear, warm weather, despite predictions of rain.
But it seemed clear even before the landing that the returning space travelers were looking forward to their return home.
"Okay, I'm thinking about coffee and apples," one of the Russian crewmates said as the Soyuz streaked back to Earth.
And the cosmonauts weren't the only ones eager to taste the culinary delights of Earth once more.
Before leaving the space station, Cassidy told reporters he would be sad to leave the orbiting lab behind, but at the same time he was excited to return home and see his wife and three children again.
In addition to rejoining his family, a "a gooey, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie ranks right on the top of my list," Cassidy told CBS Radio in an interview broadcast on NASA TV.
Cassidy, Vinogradov and Misurkin launched to the International Space Station on March 28 and made history when they became the first crew ever to launch on an "express" one-day flight to the orbiting lab. Their successful flight set the bar for future Soyuz crew launches to the space station.
The three men formed half of the space station's Expedition 35 and 36 crews, with Vinogradov commanding the Expedition 37 portion of the mission. They performed several U.S. and Russian spacewalks during the flight, with Cassidy even taking part in an unplanned spacewalk to hunt for an ammonia leak in the space station's cooling system in May.
After landing, Cassidy, Vinogradov and Misurkin will undergo a battery of medical tests to check their health after the long-duration spaceflight. Cassidy will also participate in extra tests to serve as a baseline for his fellow NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who is slated to launch on a one-year space station mission — twice as long as typical station stays — in 2015, NASA officials said. The test will also inform work on potential manned missions to Mars, they added.
This was the first spaceflight for Misurkin and the second for Cassidy, who ended the trip with a total of 181 days in space across the two flights. It was the third spaceflight for Vinogradov, who flew on a trip to the International Space Station and Russia's Mir station before this trip. He ended the flight with a total of 546 days in space.
With the safe return of the Soyuz crew, the Expedition 37 mission has officially begun on the space station. The crew includes Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg and Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, with Yurchikhin commanding the team.
Nyberg snapped photos of her Earth-bound comrades as they left the space station. She even posted one image on Twitter, where she has been chronicling her spaceflight under the name @AstroKarenN.
"Saying goodbye to Pavel, Chris & Sasha," Nyberg wrote, referring to Misurkin by his nickname. "We'll miss them! Safe journey home."
Yurchikin, Nyberg and Parmitano arrived at the space station in May. They will be joined three new crewmates — Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy and NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins — once that new crew launches on Sept. 25. The station crew is also preparing for the arrival later this month of the first unmanned cargo ship built by the commercial spaceflight company Orbital Sciences Corp., of Dulles, Va. The mission is slated to launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., on Sept. 17.
The $100 billion International Space Station has been continuously manned by astronauts and cosmonauts since 2000. Construction of the orbiting laboratory began in 1998, with five different space agencies and 15 countries overseeing its assembly. It is the largest manmade structure in space.
More from SPACE.com:
Russia's Manned Soyuz Space Capsule Explained (Infographic)
Cosmic Quiz: Do You Know the International Space Station?
Inside Space Station - The Video Show