The crew of the International Space Station Expedition 40 are locked in an unofficial competition to produce the most stunning pictures of Earth from orbit.
More than 1.3 million photos have been taken from the ISS since the first module reached the low orbit - about 400 km from the Earth’s surface – in 2000, but the current crop of astronauts, who include three first-timers out of the six-strong team, are particularly prolific and talented photographers.
Baltimore native Reid Wiseman has been obsessively documenting every day of the mission. flooding the social media with dozens of pictures every week since his arrival at the ISS in late May.
Rather than just posting pretty pictures, the US astronaut has used them to give a different perspective on important events down below, often commenting on deadly natural phenomena from the distance of his space capsule.
— Reid Wiseman (@astro_reid) August 14, 2014
— Reid Wiseman (@astro_reid) July 3, 2014
— Reid Wiseman (@astro_reid) August 8, 2014
He has also occasionally longed for his homeland, as seen from a tantalizing height.
— Reid Wiseman (@astro_reid) July 9, 2014
Western USA is beautiful at night: LA/San Diego in the lower right, Vegas center, Phoenix top right. pic.twitter.com/BPgJpxZqDH
— Reid Wiseman (@astro_reid) June 11, 2014
Though not the Hoover Dam, which doesn't look nearly so good laid out flat.
The Hoover dam and Vegas are far more spectacular when viewed from 5’10’’ high. pic.twitter.com/UWa26gOiFv
— Reid Wiseman (@astro_reid) July 23, 2014
The German Alexander Gerst, also making his maiden journey into the orbit, is more inclined towards spectacular visual effects.
— Alexander Gerst (@Astro_Alex) August 16, 2014
— Alexander Gerst (@Astro_Alex) August 12, 2014
— Alexander Gerst (@Astro_Alex) August 9, 2014
Not all of them natural.
— Alexander Gerst (@Astro_Alex) August 1, 2014
— Alexander Gerst (@Astro_Alex) July 28, 2014
The geophysicist also took the most iconic photo of the mission so far.
— Alexander Gerst (@Astro_Alex) July 23, 2014
In contrast to his colleagues, the Russian first-timer, flight engineer Oleg Artemyev, has focused on snaps that make the Earth look like a surreal artistic pattern.
This was his snap of the coast of South America, near Lake Titicaca in the Andes.
Another long-lens photo showed what look like crop circles, but are actually huge farms near Brazil's capital Brasilia.
Meanwhile, the Russian cosmonaut's cities look like an architect's dream of perfectly organized traffic lanes, and monumental housing developments, as seen in this pic of Dubai's artificial Palm Islands.
Though for Artemyev, space wasn't all about looking down - as these two superb shots of a super moon and the sunset show.
While Artemyev's chance to vie for the title of the best photographer in space will run out next month, when Expedition 40 comes to an end in September, Gerst and Wiseman will be up against a new bunch of keen recruits for three months following the crew changeover.