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International Space Station shines in gorgeous fly-around photos by Crew Dragon astronauts

The International Space Station, as photographed by the crew of SpaceX's Crew-2 mission during a 360-degree fly-around of the orbiting lab on Nov. 8, 2021.
The International Space Station, as photographed by the crew of SpaceX's Crew-2 mission during a 360-degree fly-around of the orbiting lab on Nov. 8, 2021. (Image credit: NASA)

It's been a decade since we've seen photos like these of the International Space Station.

On Nov. 8, the Crew Dragon capsule Endeavour, carrying the four astronauts of SpaceX's Crew-2 mission, departed the orbiting lab after a 6.5-month stay. Endeavour didn't head directly home to Earth, however; it first performed a complete, 360-degree fly-around of the ISS, a maneuver not performed by a crewed spacecraft since NASA's space shuttle fleet retired in 2011.

The fly-around helped test Endeavour's navigation sensors. The Crew-2 astronauts also snapped photos during the maneuver, allowing ISS managers to see portions of the station that are usually out of view. 

Related: SpaceX's Crew-2 mission to the International Space Station in photos

Another shot from the Crew-2 fly-around on Nov. 8, 2021.

Another shot from the Crew-2 fly-around on Nov. 8, 2021. (Image credit: NASA)

The rest of us can now get a look as well, thanks to NASA, which recently posted some of the fly-around images online

The photos are stunning, as pictures of the $100 billion orbiting laboratory tend to be. Some show the station against an inky-black backdrop, while others depict it hovering above its home planet. In one image, the ISS straddles Earth and the void, connecting these two very different realms.

Crew-2 performed the first crewed, complete 360-degree fly-around of the ISS since NASA's space shuttle fleet retired in 2011.

SpaceX's Crew-2 mission performed the first crewed, complete 360-degree fly-around of the ISS since NASA's space shuttle fleet retired in 2011. (Image credit: NASA )

Crew-2 was the second operational mission that SpaceX flew to the ISS for NASA. Its crewmembers were NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japanese spaceflyer Akihiko Hoshide and Europe's Thomas Pesquet. The quartet reached the station on April 24 and splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico on Nov. 8.

Just two days later, SpaceX launched Crew-3, which sent NASA's Kayla Barron, Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn and Europe's Matthias Maurer to the ISS. That mission is scheduled to last about six months as well.

Though Endeavour performed the first complete, crewed fly-around of the ISS in 10 years, other spacecraft have given us views of the orbiting lab from afar during this stretch as well. 

In late September, for example, cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei relocated a Russian Soyuz spacecraft from one ISS port to another to make space for the arrival of a second Soyuz. They took photos during this partial fly-around, some of which Novitsky shared on Twitter

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook

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Mike Wall

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.