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.