Scott Kelly—NASA
By Jeffrey Kluger
June 19, 2015

A trip to the International Space Station starts and ends with fire, but in between, there is only a sweet, shimmery drift. That’s a fact of your work life if you’re one of the tiny handful of people who fly those missions, but for the rest of us, it’s nice to have a little photographic evidence now and again. For that reason, this is a good week to offer a hat tip to astronaut Scott Kelly who can be found 251 mi. (404 km) above the Earth, where he’ll be until his year in space mission ends next March; and to NASA photographer Bill Ingalls, who can be found, well, pretty much anywhere on the planet his history-capturing services are needed. As the pictures above and below prove, both men have been doing their jobs exceptionally well.

Kelly’s picture was part of his “Good night from the International Space Station” series, a regular image he posts on his Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds before bunking down for the night—which easily qualifies him as having a much, much more interesting Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feed than you do.

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In the foreground of the image is one of the station’s many projecting limbs of hardware. In the background is the rainbow-hued onion skin of Earth’s atmosphere and the spine of the Milky Way, ranging in all directions.

The Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft lands with Expedition 43 commander Terry Virts of NASA, cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti from European Space Agency (ESA) near Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on June 11, 2015.
Bill Ingalls—NASA

Ingalls’ picture was taken on June 11, from the open hatch of helicopter 28, as it hovered over the Kazakhstan steppes when the Soyuz spacecraft carrying NASA astronaut Terri Virts, Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti returned to Earth. As a Soyuz makes its final approach, it is moving at a parachute-controlled 24 ft. per sec (8.5 m/sec), which is a whole lot slower than the speed it was traveling during its blistering plunge through the atmosphere, but still way too fast for a safe landing. So one second before impact, two small clusters of engines ignite, braking the spacecraft to just 5 ft. per sec (1.5 m/sec). That’s a speed that you’ll easily survive but you won’t remotely enjoy, as any crewmember who has ever experienced the teeth-rattling impact of hitting the Kazakh deck will tell you.

But never mind. Virts, Shkaplerov and Cristoforetti returned home safely, Kelly logged another busy day aboard the station, and the rest of us rode along in our own small way, thanks to the people who capture the images of the otherworldly places humanity goes.

Write to Jeffrey Kluger at jeffrey_kluger@timemagazine.com.

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