A selfie taken on Earth may not be that exciting, but snapped in space, the humble selfie suddenly becomes something pretty special. Here are some of the greatest spaces selfies ever to be snapped, ranging from the majestic, to the comic — even a few from before the selfie officially existed.
Top image: Astronaut Mike Hopkins on a Christmas Eve spacewalk, along with fellow astronaut Rick Matracchio (also pictured in his visor). The two spent the holiday switching out a broken pump module on the international space station. / NASA
It's full of stars
Like Hopkins' selfie pictured above, part of the appeal of the space selfie is the amazing backgrounds. Here are some other fantastic space selfies that capture some of the most gorgeous horizons, bleak expanses, and astronomical anomalies ever to cross space.
Image: Astronaut Clay Anderson took this picture during the shuttle orbiter Endeavor mission. Interestingly, NASA explains the curve of the Earth as seen in his helmet as not coming from the curvature of the earth itself, which appears only slightly curved from the height of the space stations, but instead is due to the curve of the helmet visor itself. / Clayton C. Anderson, Expedition 15 Crew, NASA
Image: Astronaut Michael Fossum took this shot during the Discovery image, capturing not only his own image, but also the reflection of crewmate Piers Sellers, and, of course, Earth in the background. / NASA
Image: Astronaut Aki Hoshide snaps a selfie, while in the midst of completing repairs on the ISS, in his visor you can see the robotic arm and the reflection of earth, while the sun shines behind him / via Expedition 32 Crew, International Space Station, NASA
The reflective quality of space helmets has been responsible for some of the most gorgeous astronomical images caught on camera — and, apparently, also for some friendly astronaut pranks, like this one from Astronaut Ron Garan (pictured below) who explains: "(…) I told Mike Fossum I was taking a picture of him. Actually, it was of myself in his visor."
Image: Ron Garan / NASA
Image: Astronaut Steve Robinson snaps a selfie, while working on repairing Discovery's heat shield, the heat shield on Discovery's underside can be seen in the reflection of his visor. / NASA
Image: Astronaut Robert Satcher took this shot during a 6.5 hour spacewalk, while also completing repairs to the ISS, including maintenance on the Kibo robotic arm. / NASA
Image: Astronaut Garret Reisman took this close-up shot of his helmet visor during a spacewalk for the Atlantis crew. Earth is prominent in the reflection, but you can also see the international space station. / NASA
Robot selfies on Mars
Most of the selfies from space feature humans, but a good robot selfie is also hard to resist. Here, Curiosity gets in on the selfie action, by stitching together a series of over a dozen images taken with its own Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). Besides letting Curiosity in on the selfie fun, this selfie also serves an engineering purpose, by letting the engineers back down on earth know how Curiosity's hardware is faring up on Mars.
Image: Curiosity self-portrait, taken in "Rocknest" in the Gale Crater, the mission's first scoop sampling site. On the left, four scoops can be seen where the soil was just collected. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Space station selfies:
Most of the selfies we see from astronauts are taken, by necessity, from safe within the confines of a spacesuit. In fact, part of the charm of the space selfie is the creative use of visors and reflections to throw back a gorgeous astronomical image or two, along with the selfie. Still, sometimes, it's nice to see a space selfie from outside of the spacesuit, and that's where these marvelous shots from the International Space Station come in.
Image: This selfie of Karen Nyberg uses water refraction to create a selfie, within a selfie / @AstroKarenN
Image: Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, flight engineer for Expedition 24, took this self portrait from the space station, looking down on earth below. / NASA
Image: Astronaut Chris Hadfield performs David Bowie's Space Oddity, making this not only an astronaut selfie, but also part of an astronaut music video. So cool. / Chris Hadfield
Image: Astronaut Karen Nyberg snapped this picture of herself on the international space station, with the caption "Say cheese!" / @AstroKarenN
Astronauts, it turns, out love tweeting a good selfie as much as the rest of us — with the small difference that their selfies are usually taken while balancing high above the earth against the dark chasm of the universe, defended only by a few thin layers of polycarbonate, fiberglass, and nylon. Here are some of the best selfies to hit social media:
Image: Astronaut Clay Anderson tweeted this charming shadow-selfie, along with the caption, "Talk about a "selfie!" This one, from 072307, is the ultimate for me! What do YOU think Twitterverse?" / @Astro_Clay
Image: Astronaut Tom Marshburn, who captioned this tweet "Leaving is bittersweet. It's been an unbelievable ride. Can't wait to see what's next!" / @AstroMarshburn
Image: Astronaut Luca Parmitano tweeted this snap of himself with captions in both English and Italian, "photo op before reentry... Un momento per una foto prima di rientrare #Volare#spacewalk" /@astro_luca
Image: Astronaut Chris Cassidy took this shot while working on some ISS maintenance. The maintenance walk ended up being cut short when fellow astronaut Luca Parmitano (pictured in Twitter selfies) reported water entering his helmet. Parmitano was unharmed. / via NASA's Instagram
Vintage space selfies
Long before the selfie had gotten its current cultural cache, astronauts were still snapping self-portraits of themselves in space. Here are a couple of selfies from before their time.
Image: This shot of Buzz Aldrin comes from all the way back in 1966, during the Gemini 12 mission / via US National Archives, who speculate that this might be the very first "space selfie."
Image: In 1969, Charles "Pete" Conrad took this shot of astronaut Alan Bean as he completed a lunar soil collection — and also caught his own reflection in his colleague's visor, as well as a gorgeous view of the lunar horizon. / Charles Conrad, Apollo 12, NASA
Image: The original space selfie. Neil Armstrong took this famous shot of Buzz Aldrin. But, you can also see Armstrong's image reflected back in Aldrin's helmet visor. / NASA