Snapped on Christmas Eve 2013, this jaw-dropping photo of NASA flight engineer Mike Hopkins perfectly captures the spectacle of space exploration: a glowing, pristine blue and white Earth contrasted against pure blackness, set behind a hovering man in a reflective helmet. It’s a striking image that cries out to be scrutinized again and again. But Hopkins’ shot isn’t the only breathtaking astronaut self-portrait out there.
Oxford Dictionaries defines the selfie as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself.” The astronaut selfie, therefore, might accurately be described as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself while floating about in space.”
The following ten pictures represent the very best in awe-inspiring astronaut selfies, variously featuring a sparkling Sun, a dazzling Earth, a suspended space station, a mirrorlike visor – and in some cases all four.
10. Akihiko Hoshide
Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide is responsible for one of the “best selfies of all time,” according to New York’s Daily News newspaper. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) flight engineer turned the camera on himself for this shot on September 5, 2012. It was during a spacewalk by Hoshide that lasted in excess of six hours, as part of JAXA’s Expedition 32 trip to the International Space Station (ISS). As well as the camera he used, other elements visible in Hoshide’s reflective visor are the Earth, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams and sections of a robotic arm. Oh, and that shiny object above Hoshide’s right shoulder is the Sun.
9. Richard Linnehan
NASA mission specialist Richard Linnehan had been to space on three previous occasions when he boarded the Space Shuttle Endeavour on March 11, 2008. The 15-day STS-123 mission would see him travel six million miles, orbit the Earth 250 times, perform three spacewalks totaling more than 22 hours – and take one hell of an astronaut selfie. The incredible photograph somehow manages to get the Earth in both the foreground and the background, with a perfectly in-focus helmet reflecting images of Endeavour and the International Space Station.
8. Tom Marshburn
This amazing image of NASA flight engineer Tom Marshburn was captured on May 11, 2013, during a five-and-a-half-hour spell of extravehicular activity (EVA). Marshburn posted the picture on his Twitter feed two days later as he was returning home from Expedition 35 to the International Space Station. The tweet stated, “Leaving is bittersweet. It’s been an unbelievable ride.” And the way the astronaut seems to be staring down at Earth glowing beneath him in the picture, it’s easy to see why he might say such a thing. What’s more, although Marshburn hasn’t actually confirmed that he took the photo himself, it has nevertheless been described as an “unbeatable” or “ultimate” selfie by online viewers.
7. Steve Robinson
The image mirrored in NASA flight engineer Steve Robinson’s helmet here is Space Shuttle Discovery’s heat shield. On August 3, 2005, Robinson was in the middle of performing a never-before-accomplished repair job on the shield, located beneath the shuttle, when he took the picture. This was just one of three spacewalks completed by Robinson on Discovery’s STS-114 mission, and it was totally unexpected. Considering the work done and the photograph, it seems to have been a good day at the office for the astronaut.
6. Joseph R. Tanner
The Sun, the Earth, the stark blackness of space and the International Space Station’s multifunctional Canadarm2 can all be seen in this exquisite self-portrait by NASA mission specialist Joseph R. Tanner. The photo was taken on September 12, 2006, on the first of two mission spacewalks for Tanner, who may have taken a break from working on trusses and solar arrays to snap the picture. Tanner logged more than 13 EVA hours during the 2006 Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-115 mission alone.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
5. Buzz Aldrin
“I didn’t realize I was pioneering… selfies,” said NASA legend Buzz Aldrin of this magnificent shot. Aldrin elaborated that he took the picture simply because he wondered “what [he’d] look like.” The spectacular photo was snapped during the famous astronaut’s Gemini 12 spaceflight, which launched on November 11, 1966. While the curved edge of the Earth in the background is clearly visible, Aldrin is mostly in shade, but this takes nothing away from the historic image. Gemini 12 was the last of the Gemini flights, after which NASA would go on to successfully land two men on the Moon on Apollo 11’s 1969 mission – with the second to walk on the surface of our only natural satellite none other than Aldrin himself.
4. Luca Parmitano
Luca Parmitano is an Italian European Space Agency (ESA) flight engineer who tried his hand at the astronaut selfie on July 9, 2013. This was during his first ever spacewalk, which he logged on Expedition 36. In fact, it was the first time an Italian had participated in a spacewalk, and Parmitano’s crystal-clear image seems the perfect way to have captured the moment. The beautiful curved Earth and the International Space Station are flawlessly mirrored in his helmet’s visor. That said, Parmitano’s second spacewalk, on July 16, was to be the second briefest ever, as a leak caused his helmet to start filling up with water. Thankfully, the astronaut made it safely back on board.
Image: Internet Archive/NASA Images
3. Jerry L. Ross
On April 8, 2002, the Space Shuttle Atlantis took NASA mission specialist Jerry L. Ross into space for the seventh time. This was a spaceflight record breaker at the time, and it has only subsequently been equaled by NASA’s Franklin Chang-Diaz. Ross was perhaps looking to commemorate his momentous achievement when he took this dramatic self-portrait, with Earth in the background, while taking part in mission STS-110’s second EVA, on April 13. In addition to taking the picture, Ross also helped to complete maintenance work on the International Space Station during a seven-and-a-half-hour EVA.
2. Michael Fossum
From July 4 to July 17, 2006, Space Shuttle Discovery spent nearly 13 days in space carrying out what NASA has dubbed “the most photographed shuttle mission in history.” Appropriately enough, mission specialist Michael Fossum snapped a ridiculously good selfie during one of his three mission STS-121 EVAs. The visor of Fossum’s helmet shows off Earth at its best in addition to mission specialist Piers Sellers and a solar power array from the International Space Station.
1. Rick Mastracchio
Taking a decent self-portrait in space apparently takes quite a bit of practice. On April 23, 2014, NASA flight engineer Rick Mastracchio complained on Twitter that “the space suit makes it very difficult to get a good selfie.” Strange, considering the fact that just hours beforehand he snapped the striking shot of himself shown here. This was on the third of three spacewalks the astronaut completed for Expeditions 38 and 39 during his six-month stay on the International Space Station. A mirror image of Earth, the emptiness of space and the station are all captured in Mastracchio’s visor.