Backdropped by New Zealand and the Cook Strait in the Pacific Ocean, astronauts Robert Curbeam (left) and Christer Fuglesang (right) participate in an extravehicular activity.
  • Astronauts have lived on the International Space Station continuously for 20 years — the first expedition arrived on 2 November, 2000. Astronauts have taken millions of pictures of their breathtaking views throughout those two decades, from sprawling city lights to volcanic eruptions.
  • Here are the 27 best photos ever taken from the ISS. 
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The first expedition to the International Space Station reached the orbiting laboratory on 2 November, 2000. Since then, not a day has gone by without astronauts zipping through space.

That's the longest-lasting human presence ever in space. In the last two decades, the people living on the ISS have taken millions of photos. The views can sometimes be hard to believe.

"How can something so beautiful be tolerated by human eyes?" NASA astronaut Mike Massimino told the Washington Post.

Here are 27 of the best photos ever taken from the space station.

The ISS has been orbiting Earth for nearly 22 years. Its first module launched into orbit on November 20, 1998.

Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy takes a break during a six-hour spacewalk on the International Space Station, August 22, 2013.

After the first crew of astronauts arrived on 2 November 2000, they started snapping photos.

A glaciated area at the headwaters of the Rio de la Colonia in southern Chile, December 2000.

Astronauts have been capturing their breathtaking views from space ever since. They've taken millions of photos.

Nearly the full length of Lake Powell, a reservoir on the Colorado River, in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, September 6, 2016.

Source: NASA

Usually, about six people live and work together in the station, orbiting Earth every 90 minutes.

A narrow barrier island protects the Lagoon of Venice from storm waves in the northern Adriatic Sea, May 9, 2014.

Source: NASA

That means they see 16 sunrises and sunsets every day.

Astronaut Scott Kelly posted this photo to Twitter on March 1, 2016, writing "Rise and shine! My last #sunrise from space then I gotta go! 1 of 5. #GoodMorning from @space_station! #YearInSpace."

Source: NASA

Today, the ISS orbits about 400 kilometres above Earth.

The sun's glint reflects off the Pacific Ocean shadowed by a line of cumulonimbus clouds, July 20, 2018.

The astronauts inside don't always know or share much detail about the sights they see. But many say they never get bored with the views.

Astronaut Scott Kelly posted this photo of Australia taken from the International Space Station on Twitter with the caption, "#EarthArt A single pass over the #Australian continent. Picture 15 of 17. #YearInSpace."

"I'm not sure I'd want to be in the same room with someone who could get tired of that," astronaut Kathy Sullivan told National Geographic.

As the space station passed over the deserts of Iran, a crew member caught this unusual geological pattern, February 14, 2014. When wind erodes layers of rock that have folded together over time, it exposes the shape and color of the folds.

Some of the most coloruful photos came from astronaut Scott Kelly, who shared many of his favorite views on social media.

Scott Kelly posted this photo of the Mediterranean coast of France taken from the International Space Station on Instagram, March 2016.

From 2015 to 2016, Kelly spent 340 consecutive days on the space station. It was the longest single human spaceflight ever.

Scott Kelly posted this photo to Twitter on July 25, 2015 with the caption, "#Goodevening #Japan. Showing @Astro_Kimiya how to take pictures of #Earth at night. #YearInSpace."

Source: NASA

When they fly over cities, astronauts can see details from above, like these coloured salt ponds in Sfax, Tunisia.

Brilliantly colored salt ponds south of Tunisia's port city of Sfax, June 19, 2015.

On cloudless nights, some views are even more clear. They call Paris "the city of lights" for a reason.

Around midnight local time on April 8, 2015, astronauts aboard the International Space Station took this photograph of Paris.

Sometimes the clouds themselves make beautiful shapes. Astronauts can watch big storms from above.

Thunderstorms roll over the South China Sea, July 29, 2016.

They can even peer into the eyes of hurricanes.

Astronaut Nick Hague posted this photograph of Hurricane Dorian to Twitter on Sept. 2, 2019. He wrote, "You can feel the power of the storm when you stare into its eye from above."

When the Caribbean isn't plagued by cyclones, the Bahamas are a calm blue oasis from an astronaut's perspective.

Scott Kelly shared this picture of the Bahamas taken from the International Space Station on Twitter on July 19, 2015 with the caption, "#Bahamas, the strokes of your watercolors are always a refreshing sight. #YearInSpace."

This frozen lake in the Himalayas reveals a different kind of blue oasis.

Scott Kelly posted this photo on Twitter with the caption, "Cool frozen lake in #Himalayas! #YearInSpace," January 6, 2016.

The views aren't always calming, though. Volcano eruptions are easy to see from space as well.

On the morning of June 22, 2019, astronauts on the ISS captured the plume of ash and gases rising from the erupting Raikoke Volcano on the Kuril Islands in the North Pacific.

"Not many artists in this world are as creative as Mother Nature," ISS commander Alexander Gerst told NASA about this image.

The west coast of southern Africa, photographed from the ISS, April 2019.

Source: NASA

The aurora borealis is one of nature's most fascinating artworks. It appears when electrically charged particles from the sun collide with oxygen and nitrogen in Earth's atmosphere.

The aurora borealis, or the "northern lights," over Canada as seen from the space station near the highest point of its orbital path, September 15, 2017.

Source: NASA

Astronauts and cosmonauts on the ISS can see the same phenomenon on the other side of the globe, too — the aurora australis.

The aurora australis on June 25, 2017, as seen from the International Space Station.

Human activities can look artistic from above as well, like this launch of a Russian spacecraft.

From aboard the International Space Station, astronaut Christina Koch photographed the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft ascending into space after its launch from Kazakhstan on September 25, 2019.

Very few people have enjoyed these views: 239 people from 19 countries have visited the ISS.

Scott Kelly posted this photo taken from the space station to Twitter on September 23, 2015 with the caption, "#GoodMorning to the Holy City of #Mecca #Makkah! #YearInSpace".

Source: NASA

Astronauts have conducted 223 spacewalks since the station opened.

Backdropped by New Zealand and the Cook Strait in the Pacific Ocean, astronauts Robert Curbeam (left) and Christer Fuglesang (right) participate in an extravehicular activity, December 12, 2006.

Source: NASA

Sometimes that's when they get the best vistas.

Astronaut Thomas Pesquet conducts a spacewalk 259 miles above Argentina on January 13, 2017.

Behind them: the vacuum of space.

Astronaut Luca Parmitano conducts a spacewalk on November 15, 2019.

But even that void sometimes offers beautiful views.

Astronaut Scott Kelly posted this photo to Twitter on August 9, 2015 with the caption, "Day 135. #MilkyWay. You're old, dusty, gassy and warped. But beautiful. Good night from @space_station! #YearInSpace".

"Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw for the first time how beautiful our planet is," Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, said in 1961. "Let us preserve and increase this beauty, and not destroy it."

The International Space Station was 257 miles above the North Pacific Ocean when a crew member photographed these cloud patterns south of the Aleutian Islands, April 28, 2019.

Source: UNESCO

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