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Magnificent photo of the space station at sunrise will take your breath away


ISS solar panels catch the light during an orbital sunrise.


NASA/Shane Kimbrough

I love looking at photos taken from the International Space Station. I peek at the pyramids, ogle the aurorae and marvel at how Earth can look like Mars when seen from above. NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough shared a new view from the ISS on Monday and it took my breath away.

It’s like J.J. Abrams directed a photo shoot from orbit. It’s like those monoliths we were all obsessed with last year starred in a sci-fi flick. It’s beauty. It’s grace. It’s flying through space. 

The astronauts on board the ISS see 16 sunrises and sunsets each day, and this one was extra special. “Captured this orbital sunrise as the sun’s rays are reflecting off of the solar arrays and new IROSA for the first time on this orbit to give the space station solar energy to run this amazing orbiting laboratory,” Kimbrough tweeted

IROSA stands for “ISS Roll-Out Solar Array.” The system is a new addition to the station after a series of spacewalks culminated in the installation of two of the arrays in June. They rolled out like giant rugs in space and are designed to give the ISS a needed power boost.

The technology on display in Kimbrough’s image is cool, but there’s something soul-stirring about the composition. The way the solar panels are etched against the distant darkness of space. How the curve of the Earth is lit with sunlight. It’s a statement piece, a meeting of nature and humanity and an expression of hope for space exploration.

Maybe I’m reading a lot into this photo, but at a time when billionaires are racing into suborbital space, it’s soothing to have a reminder of how NASA and its international partners worked together to get the ISS into orbit and to maintain it for over 20 years. 

An image like this shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s a gift from above the world.

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