(Pocket-lint) – In 2019, in order to celebrate 60 years of NASA, the Google Arts & Culture Lab created a vast visual archive. A collection of some of the best images captured by NASA for us to explore and enjoy. 

Using NASA’s public API, Google has put its machine learning to work exploring a vast collection of historic photos dating all the way back to 1915. This archive includes 127,000 images that have been analysed and categorised for us to journey through.

We’ve put together a selection of our favourites to whet your appetite.

Artemis I

Several decades have passed since NASA first landed men on the Moon. Now the agency is planning on doing it again. 

It has recently rolled out the Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket in preparation for testing before launching an unmanned test flight later this year. If that goes well then the plan is to return astronauts to the Moon’s surface by the end of the decade. 

Extravehicular Activities

Here’s a taste of some of the awesome views that astronauts get to witness while carrying out their work.

This shot shows so-called Extravehicular Activities happening at 356 nautical miles above the Earth. With the west coast of Australia forming the superb backdrop. 

The Blue Marble

The image of our planet was captured in 2014. It was put together using the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite on the Suomi NPP satellite and shows a composite of several different images combined to give a complete picture.

The composite image of the eastern hemisphere shows our planet with a beautiful blue hue. It looks more like a marble than a home. The time-lapse video view of this image is also fairly fantastic. 

Mercury shows its colours

At first glance this looks like just another photograph of the Moon, but it’s actually a shot if Mercury. This image was captured in 2008 and shows incredible detail of the surface of Mercury, a planet that’s a staggering 48 million miles from our home world. 

See more of Mercury at NASA’s Visual Universe

Clouds of Atlantis

An incredible view of the Space Shuttle Atlantis launching off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2009. Atlantis is one of the largest cargo carriers and this launch sent the shuttle skyward to resupply the International Space Station and return Nicole Stott to Earth after two months aboard the station. 

See more images of Atlantis at NASA’s Visual Universe.  

One final Endeavour

In 2011, the Space Shuttle Endeavour took off for its final space flight launching from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The Endeavour had seen a fair amount of action during its time – including 25 different missions with a total of 173 different crew members. It had spent 296 days in space and traveled over 100 million miles.   

See more images of the Space Shuttle Endeavour at NASA’s Visual Universe

A marble view of Pluto

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured high-resolution enhanced colour images of Pluto in 2015 as it passed by the planet. Meanwhile, the Chandra X-ray Observatory observed interesting X-Ray activity from the planet’s surroundings. These X-Rays appeared to be much more than a cold, rocky world should be able to emit, which lead to some debate. 

See more images of Pluto at NASA’s Visual Universe

A Moon with a view

In 2011, a full moon was photographed by the crew of the International Space Station with the Earth’s horizon and the blackness of surrounding space also making an appearance.  

Spacecraft on approach

This view shows the Soyuz TMA-7 spacecraft approaching the International Space Station. A brilliant view of Earth and the vastness of space makes for a fairly spectacular backdrop. 

A brilliant light show

A spectacular view of the Aurora Borealis taken over Canada in 2017. This magnificent image of the light phenomena is just one of the incredible sights of our world regularly spotted by the occupants of the International Space Station. 


It’s not just rockets that NASA uses to get into space. Another regular form of transport is the Mothership. Over the decades, various B-52 bombers have been converted to carry small spacecraft for aerial launch.  

These hulking great big crafts have been involved in air-launching some of NASA’s most advanced aerospace vehicles. The fact that these bombers can carry so much weight (70,000 lbs) makes them the perfect transport vehicle for other craft. The converted planes are also packed full of masses of monitoring equipment to keep an eye on both vehicles as they climb high into the sky. 

This image shows one Mothership carrying NASA’s experimental unmanned hypersonic aircraft the X-43 nestled neatly under its wing. Easy to miss at first glance, but awesomely impressive once you spot it. 

See more images of Mothership at NASA’s Visual Universe.

Aerial launch in action

A much more impressive view of Mothership in action shows the X-38 prototype dropping away from its launch pylon on the wing. The X-38 is a crew return vehicle designed for the International Space Station and this kind of test flights ensure the craft is safe and ready for its job. 

See more images of Mothership at NASA’s Visual Universe.

Mars Rovers

What gallery of images from NASA would be complete without a view of the Mars Rovers? This is a near identical copy of the NASA Curiosity rover that’s currently on Mars. That little bot landed on Mars in 2012 with the sole mission of determining the planet’s habitability.

See more images of Rovers at NASA’s Visual Universe

A curious selfie

After a couple of years on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity rover used its cameras to snap several selfies. These not only showed a snapshot of the landscapes of Mars, but also the condition of the bot during its travels around the planet’s surface. 

We’re always impressed to see Curiosity’s photographs, not just because these are views from another planet, but also because it’s been on that planet for nearly a decade. 

See more images of Rovers at NASA’s Visual Universe.

A multi-national space effort

This incredible photo shows just how international the International Space Station can be. It shows a view of Japan’s third resupply ship, the H-II Transfer Vehicle-3, attached to the station in 2012. 

The eagle-eyed among you may also notice the arm attaching to that ship is Canadian. It’s great to see the efforts from people all over the world to support these scientific adventures, not to mention the fantastic view of our blue/green home. 

Not your usual piggyback ride

This incredible photo from 1979 shows the space shuttle orbiter Columbia catching a ride on the back of a Boeing 747 aircraft as it makes a 2,400-mile journey from California. 

This space shuttle would go on to launch for its first space flight two years later and then continue on for a further 27 missions spanning 22 years. Alas, it tragically came to an end in 2003 when the shuttle disintegrated during re-entry killing all the crew in the process. 

See more images of the Space Shuttle Columbia at NASA’s Visual Universe

Soaring through the clouds

A fairly awesome photo from 2002 shows the Space Shuttle Orbiter Columbia launching off through the clouds on its mission to maintain and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. This was the Orbiter’s 27th fight and the 108th official flight of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program.

See more images of the Space Shuttle Columbia at NASA’s Visual Universe


Another fantastic shot of the Columbia snapped in 1981 shows the shuttle touching down on Rogers dry lake at Edwards Air Force Base in southern California. This view is pretty special in itself, but it’s also the first NASA flight to end with a wheeled landing. It also represents a change to the future of spaceflight too. 

See more images of the Space Shuttle Columbia at NASA’s Visual Universe

Docking in progress

This image from 2010 shows an unmanned resupply vehicle approaching the International Space Station. It’s bringing with it food, oxygen, propellant and supplies for the crew. 

The view of the craft approaching is impressive, as is the entire process involved. 

See more resupply mission images at NASA’s Visual Universe

Shuttle resupplies

This shot shows the space shuttle Atlantis in 2010 during a resupply mission. The shuttle and the team were involved in the addition of a new station module to the International Space Station as well as a replacement of batteries and resupply of the orbiting outpost.

See more resupply mission images at NASA’s Visual Universe.  

Buzz Aldrin on the moon

This classically iconic image shows astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. (aka Buzz) during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity on the moon. The view here shows all the scientific experiment equipment with the Passive Seismic Experiment Package and Laser Ranging Retro-Reflector visible in the frame.

This photo was taken by astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, who used a 70mm lunar surface camera to capture the incredible scene. Meanwhile, astronaut Michael Collins, stayed with the Command and Service Modules in lunar orbit. 

See more Lunar Module images at NASA’s Visual Universe.  

A backdrop of blackness

This view from 2007 shows the Space Shuttle Endeavour docked with the International Space Station against a backdrop of the blackness of space and our Earth’s horizon. 

See more images of space at NASA’s Visual Universe.  

A nighttime view of Earth from ISS

This fantastic view of our home at night was taken by the crew of Expedition 43 aboard International Space Station in 2015. One of many awesome images of our world snapped from space. 

See more images of space at NASA’s Visual Universe

The Northern Lights from above

In 2016, crew of the International Space Station captured this view of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) from above. A fairly spectacular view of an already incredible light show. 

See more images of space at NASA’s Visual Universe

A view of Earth taken from 3.9 million miles

In 1992, the Galileo spacecraft took this image of Earth and the Moon from around 3.9 million miles away. Both are apparently cast in darkness, but the Moon reflects a lot less light than our home planet. An incredible view that makes it look like we live on a marble.

A vision of solar flares

In 2015, the sun emitted a mid-level solar flare detected by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory which captured this image of the moment. 

These sorts of flares represent massive bursts of radiation that our atmosphere protects us from. But they do interrupt communication signals. 

See more images of the sun at NASA’s Visual Universe

Mercury – The swiftest planet

This colourful view of Mercury was crafted by NASA using images captured by the MESSENGER spacecraft. The MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) mission launched in 2004, setting out to study Mercury in more depth than before

Of course this is not how the planet would look to the human eye, but instead represents an enhancement of the chemicals, minerals and physical differences of the planet’s surface. 

Unmasking the secrets of Mercury

NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft packs some powerful tech designed to help explore the distant planet. This includes the Mercury Atmosphere and Surface Composition Spectrometer instruments. These are designed to carry out spectral surface measurements and analysis of the mineral and surface materials of the planet. These measurements are visualised by overlaying the MASCS data with mosaics created by the Mercury Dual Imaging System to create this representation. Not just a colourful view of another planet, but also one that’s packed full of visual data. 

The MESSENGER spacecraft actually crash-landed on the surface back in 2015, but not before collecting valuable data like this.

Jupiter Abyss

NASA’s Juno Spacecraft is a probe that’s orbiting Jupiter gathering data on the giant planet. This is one such image captured by the probe. It shows “an area within a Jovian jet stream showing a vortex that has an intensely dark center.”

This was taken during the crafts 20th flyby of the planet and is an undeniably incredible sight. 

The magnificent marble

Another snap of Jupiter, again captured by the Juno spacecraft as it performed a close flyby. Swirling bright-white clouds can be seen swirling around, painting a picture of an angry atmosphere. 

SpaceX resupply

The business of space exploration requires a lot of resupply and maintenance work. This simple view shows a rocket lifting off to do just that – taking supplies and equipment to the International Space Station. 

“A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 4:30 p.m. EDT, carrying the SpaceX Dragon resupply spacecraft. On its 14th commercial resupply services mission for NASA, Dragon will deliver supplies, equipment and new science experiments for technology research to the space station.”

See more SpaceX images at NASA’s Visual Universe

High altitude research

NASA’s research isn’t exclusively carried out in space. Sometimes high-altitude research flights are also used. This snap captures such a mission with the moon perfectly framed in the background.

“The Perseus A, a remotely-piloted, high-altitude research aircraft, is seen here framed against the moon and sky during a research mission at the Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California in August 1994.”

A pilot selfie

Astronauts obviously have to do a lot of training and test flights as part of their role. This image was taken during one such mission. 

“At the conclusion of Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test activities, the STS-107 crew returns to Houston. In the cockpit of the T-38 jet trainer is Pilot William “Willie” McCool. Reflected in his helmet is another T-38 with other crew members. The launch of mission STS-107 is planned for Jan. 16, 2003, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. EST aboard Space Shuttle Columbia. A mission devoted to research, STS-107 will include more than 80 experiments that will study Earth and space science, advanced technology development, and astronaut health and safety.”

A journey’s end

This image shows the moment the space shuttle Endeavour touched down at Edwards Air Force base after a 16-day mission that saw the shuttle travelling 6.6 million miles. The image was taken in 2008 and was the 27th flight to the International Space Station carrying essential supplies and equipment. 

This same mission also included four spacewalks for astronauts and efforts to prepare the ISS for long term missions for six crew members. 

A docked Endeavour

Another shot of Endeavour, this time from 2002. This photo shows the space shuttle docked with the pressurized Mating Adapter (PMA-2) at the forward end of the Destiny Laboratory on the International Space Station. 

The crew here were involved in the delivery and installation of the Mobile Remote Servicer Base System (MBS), an important tool for the maintenance of the ISS. 

Communications systems

This image shows the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-E, a satellite that was put into stationary orbit in 1991 to allow for almost uninterrupted communications between Earth and orbiting shuttles and more. Something that was sorely lacking in the years previous. 

Two suns

This image is actually an artist’s concept and shows a distant planet where two suns set instead of just one. The views here must be incredible. 

“The planet, called Kepler-16b, is the most Tatooine-like planet yet found in our galaxy…”

Space Shuttle Atlantis

In 2010, the Space Shuttle Atlantis was photographed by the crew of the ISS during a docking operation. This awesome photo was the result. 

Significant Solar flares

This image from 2014 was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. It shows significant solar flares from the Sun. Solar flares are said to result in powerful bursts of radiation. Fortunately, that radiation cannot pass through our atmosphere, but if it did it would cause problems. Some of these kinds of flares are enough to disturb GPS and other satellite signals though. 

Recovery practice

In 1966, in the tepid waters of the Atlantic Ocean, frogmen are seen taking part in a recovery exercise as practice for recovering command modules that have returned to Earth. These men were responsible for securing that module to and helping hoist it onto a recovery ship. This is the sort of scene returning astronauts could expect to be involved in. 

NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstadt/Sean Doran

Views of Jupiter

NASA’s Juno spacecraft set off to visit Jupiter quite some time ago. In 2016 it entered Jupiter’s orbit and has been sending images back since then. Its mission was supposed to end this year but has now been extended to 2025. 

Recently NASA published an incredible video showing a view of both Jupiter and its largest moon Ganymede. Impressive lighting storms can be seen on the surface, but what you don’t see is the face that Juno was travelling at around 130,000 miles per hour at the time. 

Cygnus Orbital ATK OA-6 Liftoff

Rockets are regularly launched to help with resupply missions for the International Space Station. This mission was aimed at helping observe the composition of meteors. 

“A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida carrying an Orbital ATK Cygnus resupply spacecraft on a commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. Liftoff was at 11:05 p.m. EDT. Cygnus will deliver the second generation of a portable onboard printer to demonstrate 3-D printing, an instrument for first space-based observations of the chemical composition of meteors entering Earth’s atmosphere and an experiment to study how fires burn in microgravity.”

Soviet Soyuz spacecraft

This photo from 1975 shows the moment when the American Apollo spacecraft made a rendezvous with the Soviet Soyuz spacecraft. The two spacecraft then docked and spent two days together in Earth’s orbit. 

Elektron oxygen-generation system

Some of the photos are less glamorous and yet tell an important story. Here Cosmonaut Sergei K. Krikalev is seen working on the Elektron oxygen generation system. This tool is used on the ISS as part of the life support system for the station. 

This tool uses electrolysis to produce oxygen by splitting water molecules using water from elsewhere in the station. It has hit several problems over the years but is an interesting tool nonetheless. 

Astronauts working

Some of the photos are of astronauts doing important work outside the confines of spacecraft. Here Astronaut Mark C. Lee is seen photographing worn insulation on the Hubble Space Telescope. That insulation needed to be repaired and this was part of the work to do so. 

Northern Summer on Titan

This slightly blurry looking image was captured by the Cassini spacecraft at a distance of about 315,000 miles. It shows Saturn’s moon Titan with a surface of bright methane clouds that are drifting in the summer skies.

Underwater rehearsals

Pictured at the Johnson Space Center in 1993, astronauts are seen here underwater using the Weightless Environment Training Facility to practice for the mission repairing the Hubble Space Telescope. 

An impressive insight into the work astronauts carry out and the training they have to do beforehand. 

Writing by Adrian Willings. Editing by Britta O’Boyle.

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