A record-breaking crew is about to return from the space station. Their best photos show stunning landscapes, astronaut selfies, and SpaceX spaceships.

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NASA
  • Three crew members on current mission to the International Space Station, Expedition 61, are slated to return to Earth on Thursday.
  • While living 250 miles above the Earth, they captured awe-inspiring images of ice-capped mountains in Kyrgyzstan, the nightscape in Iraq, and lagoons in Brazil. Here are their best photos.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The 61st expedition to the International Space Station officially ends on Thursday, when three crew members are slated to return to Earth.

Since September, a group of four astronauts and two cosmonauts has been living on the space station, working together to conduct experiments and replace aging technology. They’ve grown cotton, repaired a cosmic-ray detector on the station’s exterior, and tested remote robotics in space.

On the expedition were: European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Luca Parmitano; NASA astronauts Christina Koch, Andrew Morgan, and Jessica Meir; and Russian cosmonauts Aleksandr Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka. Koch, Parmitano, and Skvortsov are the crew members scheduled to return to Earth, while the others will stay on the ISS for Expedition 62.

“When you think about your home, you usually think about your house, your neighborhood, and your family. And when you look at this fragile blue ball from outer space, that’s home too. It’s everybody’s home,” Meir told a recent graduating class from her hometown of Caribou, Maine, according to Bangor Daily News.

Here are the most stunning photos from the crew’s four months orbiting Earth.


The six-person crew of Expedition 61 didn’t all arrive on the ISS at the same time. Koch, Morgan, and Parmitano were also part of Expedition 60, so they’d been orbiting Earth for months already.

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From aboard the International Space Station, astronaut Christina Koch photographed the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft ascending into space after its launch from Kazakhstan on Wednesday, September 25, 2019.
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NASA/Christina Koch

Then on September 25, a Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft carried Meir and Skripochka to the space station. With them came the first person from the United Arab Emirates ever to fly into space: Hazzaa Ali Almansoori.

“This is a huge responsibility for me, to be the first from our country and this program,” Almansoori told the Houston Chronicle at the time. “For me, I started to look at the stars since childhood and for me, to reach here was impossible but it’s not impossible now.”

He stayed in space for eight days.


Then NASA astronaut Nick Hague, cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, and Almansoori landed back on Earth on October 3.

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Brazil’s largest lagoon, Lagos dos Patos, on the nation’s southernmost tip from an altitude of 260 miles on November 19, 2019.
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NASA

They landed near the remote town of Zhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.


For the nine days between the new crew members’ arrival and the Expedition 60 departure, the ISS was a bit crowded.

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ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano tweeted this image of the team gathered for a celebratory dinner in the Russian Zvezda module, the food preparation area of the Space Station.
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ESA

It’s usually staffed by three to six astronauts and cosmonauts, though the record for the most people on the ISS was set in 2009, when 13 astronauts and cosmonauts were on board.


Expedition 61 officially started after they departed, on October 3.

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A first-quarter moon as seen by Expedition 61.
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NASA

Since then, the astronauts have been capturing remarkable snapshots of life on Earth from 250 miles above the planet’s surface.

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The city of Winnipeg in the Canadian province of Manitoba, as seen from the International Space Station on January 1, 2020.
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NASA

Source: NASA


“Our planet Earth, with its vast and varied terrain, is a constant source of wonder to astronauts on the International Space Station,” Parmitano, the mission commander, said in an ESA video.

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The French Polynesian island of Bora Bora, surrounded by the Bora Main Motu Reef, as seen from the ISS on October 31, 2019.
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NASA

Source: ESA


Koch, Parmitano, and Skvortsov are now making preparations to return to Earth.

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The Expedition 61 crew gathers for a New Year’s Eve meal on the space station, including Christina Koch (top left), Luca Parmitano (top right), and Alexander Skvortsov (bottom right) on December 31, 2019.
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NASA

They’ll leave Skripochka, Meir, and Morgan to begin Expedition 62 later this month.

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An aurora blankets the Earth beneath a celestial night sky as the space station orbits 261 miles above the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North America on January 22, 2020.
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NASA

Koch has already logged more time in space than any other woman. She beat the past record of 289 days, set by NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson in 2017.

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NASA astronaut Christina Koch makes observations from the International Space Station’s cupola, December 31, 2019.
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NASA

When she returns to Earth, she’ll have spent 328 days in space.


Koch will be just 12 days shy of the longest single spaceflight by a NASA astronaut — Scott Kelly set that record when he spent 340 days in space from 2015 to 2016.

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NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan in his US spacesuit during a spacewalk on November 25, 2019.
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NASA

Koch conducted the first all-female spacewalk with Meir in October 2019.

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NASA astronauts Christina Koch (left) and Jessica Meir (right) work on their spacesuits ahead of a spacewalk to install new lithium-ion batteries outside the station on January 15, 2020.
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NASA

Some of the repair work focused on the space station’s Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), a cosmic-ray detector.

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Astronaut Jessica Meir during a spacewalk, attached to a portable foot restraint, on January 20, 2020.
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NASA

The cosmic-ray detector was designed to help scientists study antimatter. Parmitano and Morgan added a new pump module to get the instrument in better condition.


“The actual experience of going out the door is almost indescribable,” Koch told the Raleigh News & Observer — the newspaper in her college town.

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NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan photographed the Earth 250 miles below him with his foot in the foreground during a spacewalk on December 2, 2019
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Andrew Morgan/NASA

Source: The News & Observer


“The perspective that you gain on a spacewalk is a little bit different than what we see just looking out the window from here on station,” she added. “You’re actually immersed in the environment around you.”

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The Andes mountain range that separates the arid and sub-tropical climates in northern Argentina, as seen from the International Space Station, November 19, 2019.
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NASA

Source: The News & Observer


In total, the crew conducted nine spacewalks during the four-month expedition — more than any other mission in the same period of time in the history of the ISS.

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European astronaut Luca Parmitano rides the space station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm, December 2, 2019.
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NASA

Source: NASA


The expedition’s spacewalks lasted a total of 61 hours.

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The cities of Villadiego, Villegas, and Sasamon along the Rio Brulles in northern Spain, as seen from the space station on October 8, 2019.
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NASA

Source: NASA


Expedition 61’s primary research goals involved studying ultra-cold matter, growing plants aboard the space station, and testing new robots in space.

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The Rhône river, Réservoir du Grande-Large, and the Groupama Stadium near the French city of Lyon, pictured from the space station on October 8, 2019.
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NASA

The astronauts “space farmed” cotton.


ISS crew members have grown lettuce, radishes, peas, zinnias, and sunflowers in the past. Some of the crops provide fresh food to the astronauts, while the rest is analyzed.

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Mizuna mustard greens grow aboard the International Space Station. Half of the space crop is for the crew to taste, while the other half gets stowed in freezers for analysis on Earth.
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NASA

Parmitano has been the mission’s commander — the third European and first Italian to hold the position.

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Parmitano takes a space selfie on January 25, 2020.
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NASA

Source: Business Insider.


“From up here, the answer is clearer than ever,” Parmitano said to leaders at the UN Climate Summit in New York on September 23, 2019. “There is absolutely no place like home.”

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Luca Parmitano conducts a spacewalk attached to a robotic arm on the space station, December 2, 2019.
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NASA

Source: ESA


This year brings a major milestone for the ISS: November 2020 will mark 20 years of crewed operation of the orbiting laboratory.

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Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo spaceship is seen attached to the ISS 265 miles above the South Atlantic Ocean, near the tip of South Africa, November 19, 2019.
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NASA

In total, 239 people have visited the ISS.

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A nighttime Baghdad, Iraq, from 260 miles above, January 4, 2020.
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NASA

Those astronauts, cosmonauts, and other visitors came from 19 different countries.

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Looking southwest over the Atlantic Ocean at Cuba from 255 miles above the Earth, November 26, 2019.
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NASA

More spaceflight history is also likely to be made in 2020, since the first astronauts to fly commercial spaceships are expected to launch in the coming months.

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The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship approaches the International Space Station above the Mediterranean Sea in between Turkey and Cyprus, December 8, 2019.
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NASA

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will probably be the first commercial spaceship to carry people, though Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is also slated to fly astronauts in 2020.

SpaceX has been launching supplies to the space station on its Dragon capsule since May 2012.


Koch, Skvortsov, and Parmitano will board the spaceship that will take them back to Earth at 9:30 p.m. ET, according to NASA. They’re scheduled to land in Kazakhstan on Thursday afternoon local time.

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The Issyk-Kul Lake in the central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan is surrounded by the snow-capped Tian Shen mountains on October 16, 2019.
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NASA

“I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t want to be an astronaut,” Koch said. “Most kids probably dream of becoming an astronaut. I was just the one that never grew out of it.”

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Baja California, with the sun’s glint beaming off the Gulf of California, pictured from the International Space Station, November 4, 2019.
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NASA

Source: The News & Observer