In spite of the fact that they just don’t get enough funding (or attention) the brilliant minds at NASA are always pursuing their goal to propel humanity forward into the final frontier. After years of languishing in the background of pop culture (and government funding), NASA is back in a big way. As Hollywood begins to head back to a realistic space with critically acclaimed adventures like Gravity and The Martian, the upcoming Passengers and next year’s God Particle, NASA is in the forefront of pop culture once more. Here’s a group of geniuses who have been taking us all on an exploration unrivaled in human history. We may not have been paying much attention to their work in the last few decades, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been toiling away exploring both the world we live in and humanity’s next stops on our road to galactic expansion. Along the way, they’ve seen the Universe from a totally unique perspective. Fortunately for us, they keep great records. Check these pics out.
1. Vortex Street And Dust Off Cape Verde Islands
A harsh wind blows off the coast of North Africa, sending a wall of dust as far off shore as the Cape Verde Islands. Meanwhile a comforting fleet of water clouds move with the force of the wind. Looks like modern art.
2. Bear Glacier, Gulf Of Alaska
In the eloquent words of NASA’s description writer, “Although they move slowly, glaciers do move, and this movement alters the ice as it passes over land. Likewise, a moving glacier can carry with it evidence of geologic events it has witnessed.” Fascinating perspective from above.
3. Busy Traffic at the International Space Station
Taken earlier this month by Expedition 47 Flight Engineer Tim Peake, this photo shows three spaceships docked at the ISS as the station passes over Madagascar.
4. The Red Planet
This is Mars from space, a stark, mean planet that we’re trying really hard to get to, for some reason. “Home to the largest volcano in the solar system, the deepest canyon and crazy weather and temperature patterns, Mars looms as the ultimate lonely planet destination.” And that’s in NASA’s own words!
As Scott Kelly watched the sunrise over the Western United States, he snapped this picture. At that point, the crew was seeing this spectacle from “an altitude of 220 miles, traveling at a speed of approximately 17,500 miles per hour.” What a view.
6. Our Intrepid Hero
Before humanity can actually set foot on the barren wonderland that is Mars, we had to send a forward scout: the Mars Rover. This space selfie was taken back in 2012, when the Rover was working to … do some really boring-sounding, but incredibly revolutionary stuff.
7. An Astronaut’s View of Space
On September 2, 2014 NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman tweeted this photo as the ISS cruised over the ocean at a little past sunrise. Looks like such a peaceful planet from above.
8. The Brightest of Stars
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope recorded this star formation known as LH 95 one of hundreds of formations of star-forming systems located about 160,000 light years from us. Wow.
9. The Endeavour
This beautiful shot of the space shuttle Endeavour was taken from the ISS. The Endeavour was one of the first shuttles to deliver people to the ISS as the space station began its experiment of continuous human existence on board.
10. The Panhandle
Just before one morning, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman captured this shot of the land between Florida and Louisiana. Even though the sun hasn’t even risen above the horizon, the Southern US is a vibrant, glowing mass of activity.
11. The Lonely Galaxy
About 3 million light years away from the Milky Way sits the Wolf-Lundmark-Melotte Galaxy, the lonely assortment of stars sitting at one of the most remote points in known space. Wolf-Lundmark-Melotte may “never have interacted with any other local group galaxy.” Think there’s any life in there?
12. Atlantis’ Final Flight
The Space Shuttle Atlantis launched from Kennedy Space Center just before noon on July 8, 2011. The shot you see here was taken as the shuttle approached the ISS, its final feat before the Atlantis shuttle program was mothballed.
13. The Typhoon
Not just any typhoon, this is a super typhoon. Taken aboard the ISS, Maysak formed in March of 2015 and went on to become the most powerful pre-April typhoon in history, with winds hitting category 5 speeds.
14. The Alps
Expedition 46 flight engineer Tim Peake of the European Space Agency (ESA) got this photo as the ISS flew over Italy, the Alps and the Mediterranean one night.
15. Plowing Through the Depths of Space
According to NASA, “A runaway star, plowing through the depths of space and piling up interstellar material before it, can be seen in this ultraviolet image from NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer. The star, called CW Leo, is hurtling through space at about 204,000 miles per hour (91 kilometers per second), or roughly 265 times the speed of sound on Earth.”
16. The Cosmic Starlet
We’ve known about the Helix Nebula for nearly 200 years. That’s because the formation is fairly close to us in cosmic terms; it’s only about 700 light years away. That’s nothing when you’re talking interplanetary distances. Looks like a giant eye.
17. The Northern Lights
During his year aboard the International Space Station, Astronaut Scott Kelly made sure to keep in close contact with his fans. Along the way he shared some amazing pictures, like this one of the Aurora Borealis taken last October.
18. Watching the Rivers Flow On Greenland
Obviously, everyone knows that NASA is devoted to studying advanced aeronautics and getting us into space, however, the organization also takes time to help make sure that planet Earth isn’t going to the dogs. This photo of Greenland was taken around the time as a NASA-funded study designed to help stem the country’s loss of ice.
19. The Dusty Nebula
According to NASA, “Resembling a flaming creature on the run, this image exposes the hidden interior of a dark and dusty cloud in the emission nebula IC 1396. Young stars previously obscured by dust can be seen here for the first time.”
20. Fires in South Africa
What you’re seeing here is a series of fires — most likely for agricultural purposes — set in Africa in May of 2004. These images were captured by NASA’s Aqua satellite as show a shroud of smoke blanketing the continent, “filling the skies over Democratic Republic of Congo.”
According to NASA, “Thick dust clouds block our night-time view of the Milky Way, creating what is sometimes called the Dark Rift. The fact that – from the viewpoint of Earth – the sun aligns with these clouds, or the galactic center, near the winter solstice is no cause for concern.”