These Beautiful Artsy NASA Photos Were Buried in the Archives
These Beautiful Artsy NASA Photos Were Buried in the Archives
On July 27, 1999, Space Shuttle Columbia's STS-93 mission landed at the Kennedy Space Center. Launched on July 23, 1995, STS-93 was the first shuttle mission commanded by a woman, Col. Eileen M. Collins. The main goal of the mission was to deploy the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, a telescope designed to detect X-ray emission from extremely hot areas of the universe, such as exploded stars. The astronauts also experimented on several plants and took ultraviolet images of the Earth, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter. (NASA)

On July 27, 1999, Space Shuttle Columbia's STS-93 mission landed at the Kennedy Space Center. Launched on July 23, 1995, STS-93 was the first shuttle mission commanded by a woman, Col. Eileen M. Collins. The main goal of the mission was to deploy the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, a telescope designed to detect X-ray emission from extremely hot areas of the universe, such as exploded stars. The astronauts also experimented on several plants and took ultraviolet images of the Earth, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter. (NASA)

NASA successfully launched more than 200 Earth-orbiting satellites, including Goddard's eighth Orbiting Solar Observatory aboard this Delta rocket on June 21,1975, at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The satellite-the final in a series of spacecraft specifically designed to look at the Sun in high-energy wavelength bands that scientists cannot see on Earth-gathered data on energy transfer in the Sun's hot, gaseous atmosphere and its 11-year sunspot cycle. Sunspots are cooler regions that appear as dark patches in the visible surface of the Sun and are more plentiful every 11 years. Flares and other powerful solar events that sometimes wreak havoc with Earth's communications systems also are associated with heightened sunspot activity. In addition to looking at the Sun, the satellite investigated celestial sources of X-rays in the Milky Way and beyond. It carried eight experiments. (NASA)

NASA successfully launched more than 200 Earth-orbiting satellites, including Goddard's eighth Orbiting Solar Observatory aboard this Delta rocket on June 21,1975, at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The satellite-the final in a series of spacecraft specifically designed to look at the Sun in high-energy wavelength bands that scientists cannot see on Earth-gathered data on energy transfer in the Sun's hot, gaseous atmosphere and its 11-year sunspot cycle. Sunspots are cooler regions that appear as dark patches in the visible surface of the Sun and are more plentiful every 11 years. Flares and other powerful solar events that sometimes wreak havoc with Earth's communications systems also are associated with heightened sunspot activity. In addition to looking at the Sun, the satellite investigated celestial sources of X-rays in the Milky Way and beyond. It carried eight experiments. (NASA)

The Goddard Space Flight Center was named in honor of Dr. Robert Goddard, a pioneer in rocket development. Dr. Goddard received patents for a multi-stage rocket and liquid propellants in 1914 and published a paper describing how to reach extreme altitudes six years later. Photo taken around 1932. (NASA)

The Goddard Space Flight Center was named in honor of Dr. Robert Goddard, a pioneer in rocket development. Dr. Goddard received patents for a multi-stage rocket and liquid propellants in 1914 and published a paper describing how to reach extreme altitudes six years later. Photo taken around 1932. (NASA)

The X-15 rocket-powered aircraft begins its climb after launch at the NASA Flight Research Center, Edwards, California (later renamed the Dryden Flight Research Center) in 1965. (NASA)

The X-15 rocket-powered aircraft begins its climb after launch at the NASA Flight Research Center, Edwards, California (later renamed the Dryden Flight Research Center) in 1965. (NASA)

Gemini 4 astronauts Edward H. White II (L) and James A. McDivitt listen to President Lyndon B. Johnson as he congratulated them by telephone on their successful mission. They are shown aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Wasp just after their splashdown recovery from the Atlantic Ocean. (NASA)

Gemini 4 astronauts Edward H. White II (L) and James A. McDivitt listen to President Lyndon B. Johnson as he congratulated them by telephone on their successful mission. They are shown aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Wasp just after their splashdown recovery from the Atlantic Ocean. (NASA)

Engineers at Lewis developed a series of advanced propellers with complex blade shapes during the 1980s. Here lasers make precise measurements of blade deflections during a test run in the 8 foot by 6 foot Supersonic Wind Tunnel. (NASA)

Engineers at Lewis developed a series of advanced propellers with complex blade shapes during the 1980s. Here lasers make precise measurements of blade deflections during a test run in the 8 foot by 6 foot Supersonic Wind Tunnel. (NASA)

The May 27, 1999 liftoff of the Orbiter Discovery (STS-96). The STS-96 mission, of almost 10 days, was the second International Space Station (ISS) assembly and resupply flight and the first flight to dock with the station. (NASA)

The May 27, 1999 liftoff of the Orbiter Discovery (STS-96). The STS-96 mission, of almost 10 days, was the second International Space Station (ISS) assembly and resupply flight and the first flight to dock with the station. (NASA)

The Earth and Moon in a single frame, the first of its kind ever taken by a spacecraft, was recorded September 18, 1977, by NASAs Voyager 1 when it was 7.25 million miles (11.66 million kilometers) from Earth. The moon is at the top of the picture and beyond the Earth as viewed by Voyager. (NASA)

The Earth and Moon in a single frame, the first of its kind ever taken by a spacecraft, was recorded September 18, 1977, by NASAs Voyager 1 when it was 7.25 million miles (11.66 million kilometers) from Earth. The moon is at the top of the picture and beyond the Earth as viewed by Voyager. (NASA)

The eclipse of the Sun viewed from the Apollo 12 spacecraft during its transearth journey home from the Moon in 1969. This view was created when the Earth moved directly between the Sun and the Apollo 12 spacecraft. (NASA)

The eclipse of the Sun viewed from the Apollo 12 spacecraft during its transearth journey home from the Moon in 1969. This view was created when the Earth moved directly between the Sun and the Apollo 12 spacecraft. (NASA)

Turning vanes in the 16 Foot Tunnel at Langley Research Center on April 24, 1990. (NASA)

Turning vanes in the 16 Foot Tunnel at Langley Research Center on April 24, 1990. (NASA)

North American F-100 Airplane (NACA 709) with Pilot George Cooper on March 27, 1957. (NASA)

North American F-100 Airplane (NACA 709) with Pilot George Cooper on March 27, 1957. (NASA)

Astronaut Alan L. Bean, Lunar Module pilot for the Apollo 12 lunar landing mission, holds a Special Environmental Sample Container filled with lunar soil collected during the extravehicular activity (EVA) in which astronauts Charles Conrad Jr., commander, and Bean participated. Connrad, who took this picture, is reflected in the helmet visor of the Lunar Module pilot. (NASA)

Astronaut Alan L. Bean, Lunar Module pilot for the Apollo 12 lunar landing mission, holds a Special Environmental Sample Container filled with lunar soil collected during the extravehicular activity (EVA) in which astronauts Charles Conrad Jr., commander, and Bean participated. Connrad, who took this picture, is reflected in the helmet visor of the Lunar Module pilot. (NASA)

A Delta II rocket carrying NASA's Kepler spacecraft liftoff on March 6, 2009. (NASA/Regina Mitchell-Ryall, Tom Farrar)

A Delta II rocket carrying NASA's Kepler spacecraft liftoff on March 6, 2009. (NASA/Regina Mitchell-Ryall, Tom Farrar)

Research pilot Bill Dana watches a NB-52B cruise overhead at Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., on Nov. 30, 1968. John Reeves (L) by the cockpit of the HL-10 lifting body. The HL-10 was one of five lifting body designs flown at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., from July 1966 to November. (NASA)

Research pilot Bill Dana watches a NB-52B cruise overhead at Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., on Nov. 30, 1968. John Reeves (L) by the cockpit of the HL-10 lifting body. The HL-10 was one of five lifting body designs flown at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., from July 1966 to November. (NASA)

A powerful electrical storm near Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A in the hours preceding the launch of STS-8 on Aug. 30, 1983. (NASA)

A powerful electrical storm near Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A in the hours preceding the launch of STS-8 on Aug. 30, 1983. (NASA)

Test firing on the A-1 Test Stand at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Miss., in this undated photo. The A-1 is one of three Test Stands at Stennis used for testing Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME's). (NASA)

Test firing on the A-1 Test Stand at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Miss., in this undated photo. The A-1 is one of three Test Stands at Stennis used for testing Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME's). (NASA)

On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger and her seven-member crew were lost when a ruptured O-ring in the right Solid Rocket Booster caused an explosion soon after launch. Seconds after the accident, the Space Shuttle Main Engines and Solid Rocket Booster exhaust plumes entwined around a ball of gas from the External Tank. Because shuttle launches had become almost routine after 50 successful missions, those watching the shuttle launch in person and on television found the sight of the explosion especially shocking and difficult to believe until NASA confirmed the accident. (NASA)

On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger and her seven-member crew were lost when a ruptured O-ring in the right Solid Rocket Booster caused an explosion soon after launch. Seconds after the accident, the Space Shuttle Main Engines and Solid Rocket Booster exhaust plumes entwined around a ball of gas from the External Tank. Because shuttle launches had become almost routine after 50 successful missions, those watching the shuttle launch in person and on television found the sight of the explosion especially shocking and difficult to believe until NASA confirmed the accident. (NASA)

Boeing B-29 long range bomber model was tested for ditching characteristics in the Langley Research Center Tank No. 2 early in 1946, in Hampton, Va. (NASA)

Boeing B-29 long range bomber model was tested for ditching characteristics in the Langley Research Center Tank No. 2 early in 1946, in Hampton, Va. (NASA)

The Apollo 14 Lunar Module (LM)

The Apollo 14 Lunar Module (LM) "Antares" during the first extravehicular activity (EVA-1) on Feb. 5, 1971. A bright trail left in the lunar soil by the two-wheeled Modularized Equipment Transporter (MET) leads from the LM. (NASA)

Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) used a digital camera to capture several hundred photographs of the aurora australis, or “southern lights,” while passing over the Indian Ocean on Sept. 17, 2011. (NASA)

Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) used a digital camera to capture several hundred photographs of the aurora australis, or “southern lights,” while passing over the Indian Ocean on Sept. 17, 2011. (NASA)

Uranus recorded by Voyager 2 on Jan. 25, 1986, as the spacecraft left the planet behind and set forth on the cruise to Neptune. Voyager was 1 million kilometers (about 600,000 miles) from Uranus when it acquired this wide-angle view. (NASA)

Uranus recorded by Voyager 2 on Jan. 25, 1986, as the spacecraft left the planet behind and set forth on the cruise to Neptune. Voyager was 1 million kilometers (about 600,000 miles) from Uranus when it acquired this wide-angle view. (NASA)

The Space Shuttle Columbia lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on June 25, 1992. Five NASA astronauts and two scientists/payload specialists were aboard, beginning a 13-day trip that would feature extensive research in the U.S. Microgravity Laboratory I. Altogether, 31 experiments were completed, and the crew landed on July 9. (NASA)

The Space Shuttle Columbia lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on June 25, 1992. Five NASA astronauts and two scientists/payload specialists were aboard, beginning a 13-day trip that would feature extensive research in the U.S. Microgravity Laboratory I. Altogether, 31 experiments were completed, and the crew landed on July 9. (NASA)

By testing a North American XP-51B Mustang with cropped wings in the 16-foot high-speed tunnel, Ames researchers traced the source of a serious rumble to the location of the plane’s air scoop below the fuselage. Taken around 1943. (NASA)

By testing a North American XP-51B Mustang with cropped wings in the 16-foot high-speed tunnel, Ames researchers traced the source of a serious rumble to the location of the plane’s air scoop below the fuselage. Taken around 1943. (NASA)

Compiled panorama of lunar photographs originally taken by astronaut Eugene Cernan in 1972 during the Apollo 17 mission. Visible above and by scrolling right are lunar rocks in the foreground, lunar mountains in the background, some small craters, a lunar rover, and astronaut Harrison Schmidt on his way back to the rover. A few days after this image was taken, humanity left the Moon and has yet to return. (NASA)

Compiled panorama of lunar photographs originally taken by astronaut Eugene Cernan in 1972 during the Apollo 17 mission. Visible above and by scrolling right are lunar rocks in the foreground, lunar mountains in the background, some small craters, a lunar rover, and astronaut Harrison Schmidt on his way back to the rover. A few days after this image was taken, humanity left the Moon and has yet to return. (NASA)

A test subject sits at the controls during project Lunar Orbit and Landing Approach, a simulator to study problems related to landing on the moon, at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., on Dec. 5, 1961. It was a complex project that cost nearly $2 million dollars. Taken on Dec. 5, 1961. (NASA)

A test subject sits at the controls during project Lunar Orbit and Landing Approach, a simulator to study problems related to landing on the moon, at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., on Dec. 5, 1961. It was a complex project that cost nearly $2 million dollars. Taken on Dec. 5, 1961. (NASA)

A time-exposure photograph of configuration of Pad 19 up until the launch of Gemini 10 on July 18, 1966. Onboard the spacecraft are John W. Young and Michael Collins. The two astronauts would spend almost three days practicing docking with the Agena target vehicle and conducting a number of experiments. (NASA)

A time-exposure photograph of configuration of Pad 19 up until the launch of Gemini 10 on July 18, 1966. Onboard the spacecraft are John W. Young and Michael Collins. The two astronauts would spend almost three days practicing docking with the Agena target vehicle and conducting a number of experiments. (NASA)

Browsing through NASA photo archives, one may expect to be impressed, but not necessarily surprised: lots of astronauts in “Michelin Men” suits, the flag on the moon, deep space, a shuttle taking off—that kind of thing. Imagine my delight when I stumbled upon quite a few examples of some impressive photography.

Though often capturing visuals that terrestrial photographers can only dream of, old NASA photographs were focused more on documenting the agency’s work than the aesthetics of photography as an art form. But that doesn’t mean many of the images don’t possess an artistic quality.

Check out this selection, where the lighting, composition, and perspective elevated pure depiction to a real aesthetic treat.

Of course, these days astronauts receive training in photography and producing stunning pictures is part of the job. Moreover, there are astronauts like Canadian Chris Hadfield, who published an art book on space photography, and Donald Pettit, who earned himself an interview with TIME last year specifically on the topic of taking pictures in space.

You may notice that several pictures in this selection date back to World War II and may wonder, “Wasn’t NASA established much later?”

That’s right. NASA was established by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958 by the National Aeronautics and Space Act—in fact, it was exactly 57 years ago, on July 29. But the United States already had an aeronautics agency at the time, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). With the creation of NASA, NACA was dissolved but they both possess the same legacy. 

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