There is a lot of beauty in space exploration. Wide swathes of stars. Heart-expanding views of Earth. Fiery tongues of rocket launch flames. A photo of a SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft returning to the planet from orbit gives us a different perspective, one that expresses a quiet loveliness.
SpaceX shared the photo on Friday after the nighttime return of the CRS-23 Dragon mission from the International Space Station. There were no humans on board, but the cargo craft was packed with samples from science experiments conducted on the station.
"Dragon reenters Earth's atmosphere before splashing down off the coast of Florida – completing the fifth reentry of a Dragon spacecraft this year," SpaceX tweeted.
The gently bending stream of light across the sky highlights the path of the spacecraft, which eventually parachuted to its splashdown landing. The clouds glow and the sky reflects off the water, making this image not just about Dragon, but about the home it's returning to.
Ben Cooper, who snapped the photo, told CNET the experience was like watching "a shooting star but slower and silent." People closer to the reentry path may have heard a sonic boom.
The research on board Dragon covers topics ranging from neurodegenerative diseases to muscle atrophy. The Florida splashdown near the Kennedy Space Center meant the samples could be retrieved and in the hands of scientists within hours. "This shorter transportation time frame allows researchers to collect data with minimal loss of microgravity effects," said NASA in a statement Thursday.
The cargo spacecraft had been in residence at the ISS since late August. Cargo missions generally don't get as much attention as crewed missions, but the beautiful image of Dragon's return is worth taking a few moments to appreciate the wondrous view.