This is the most inspirational picture of the ISS I've ever seen

Luminous view of the space station above the Nile Delta in Egypt weaves threads of human history.

Amanda Kooser
Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
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ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet captured this outstanding view of the ISS above the Nile Delta in Egypt in November 2021.

Thomas Pesquet

I need to talk about a photo of the International Space Station. I thought I'd seen most of the images from a November fly-around by the SpaceX Crew-2 mission. But I missed one, and a tweet from Nujoud Fahoum Merancy, NASA chief of exploration mission planning, brought it to my attention this week.

"Just going to meditate on this recent picture of ISS over the Egyptian Nile Delta today," Merancy wrote, and I took that as an invitation to do the same. The photo shows the station at about 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the delta region where the river reaches the Mediterranean Sea. Earth below is lit by a mesh of lights, while the ISS is edged in darkness.

The photo comes courtesy of European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who captured a series of stunning ISS images during the November fly-around prior to the Crew Dragon spacecraft returning home.

I've seen sharper images of the ISS. I've seen brighter ones. But the layers of meaning in this photo move me. The station seems to be melding into the lightscape below and it's hard to tell where Earth ends and space begins. The ISS is framed like it's being embraced by the Nile Delta, all the people living there now, and the deep history of the region.

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The image is all the more poignant knowing the ISS has a limited lifespan. It's already been in orbit for over 20 years and NASA wants to continue operating the station through 2030. The life of the ISS will be a blip compared to the thousands of years of human history represented by the Nile Delta. But the station represents the ambitious reach of humanity, the chase for wonder. 

The ISS might have been miles from the Nile when Pesquet took the serendipitous snapshot, but the image folds together many chapters of human history, from the fertile fields of Earth to the stars beyond our reach.