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An Astronaut’s View

A SELFIE FROM SPACE Astronaut Terry Virts snapped this photo during the final moments of his last spacewalk, in 2015. TERRY VIRTS—NASA

Former astronaut Terry Virts has had an unusual view of the world. He piloted the space shuttle Endeavour and spent 200 days on the International Space Station (ISS). While aboard the station, he took three spacewalks, conducted many experiments, and shot an IMAX movie, A Beautiful Planet. He also snapped 319,275 images—a world record for photographs taken by an astronaut.

A selection of those images is included in his new book, View from Above: An Astronaut Photographs the World. In the chapter about spacewalks, Virts writes about observing the Earth while working on the ISS. He felt like he was seeing something humans weren’t meant to see. He spoke to TFK’s Dante A. Ciampaglia about one of those moments, and about a memory that will be with him forever.

“I remember that instant. Our task was plugging in cables. And like so many things, there’s this mundane work-work-work-work-work, and then all of a sudden, there’s this sublime experience. I had a few seconds free, which rarely happened on spacewalks. I was on the very front tip of the space station. Most of the time on a spacewalk, you’ve got a face full of metal. You’re just holding onto the structure, and all you can see is the metal thing in front of you. [But] I rotated myself around, held onto the station with one hand, and I could see the sunrise from horizon to horizon.

“Seeing that sunrise that you just can’t imagine, it was: ‘Wow—I can’t believe I’m getting a chance to see this.’ It felt like peering into the beginning of creation or something. And then it was back to work.”