These beautiful images made International Space Station astronauts into social media stars

NASA astronaut  Reid Wiseman works outside the space station.
NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman works outside the space station.
Image: Reuters/Alexander Gerst/NASA
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After more than five months aboard the International Space Station, US astronaut Reid Wiseman, Germany’s Alexander Gerst, and Russian commander Maxim Suraev returned to Earth Nov. 9. Along with a generation of fruit flies born in space, they landed safely in Kazakhstan, and a Russian recovery team is currently helping them re-adjust to Earth’s gravity.

During their 166 days in orbit, the astronauts were in constant touch with a global online audience that grew to more than half a million Twitter followers. Here’s their re-entry selfie:

Their mission underlines how social media has become a crucial component for space programs—especially for the International Space Station, which has struggled to obtain US funding and define what, exactly, it is for. But now the growing online popularity of Twitter-savvy astronauts (not to mention the interest in privatizing and commercializing space exploration) has renewed interest in the ISS.

Canadian Chris Hadfield kicked off the phenomenon last year with a social media blitz cooked up by his two twenty-something sons, resulting in thousands of gorgeous images, and a cover of “Space Oddity” that was watched 28 million times. For their part, Wiseman, Gerst and Suraev used the mission to brief the world on the history of the space station, which has been permanently occupied for about 15 years now despite the US and Europe’s growing political friction with Russia. They did that via a Youtube video broadcast from space, naturally:

Wiseman and Gerst also discovered that time lapse footage from space goes great with Vine’s six second video limit. Wiseman, a former Navy aviator from Maryland, perfected the “Sunset final” Vine just before his reentry:

More of his work is filed under #SpaceVine.

Gerst’s flight through an aurora over New Zealand is also pretty incredible:

Gerst, a geophysicist and volcanologist, also used the mission to highlight environmental devastation around the world…

…and the way that pollution knows no boundaries:

Wiseman concentrated on beautiful images, like this one from over Saudi Arabia…

…and this Vine of the moon setting over the Earth, with lightning radiating in the clouds below:

The international space station operates on a “three astronauts out, three in” rotation, so there will be new astronauts there shortly. Naturally, they’ll be online as well:

And the Milky Way will be waiting.

The Milky Way from the space station.
The Milky Way from the space station.
Image: Reuters/NASA/Reid Wiseman