Once Sputnik 1 was successfully hurled into orbit in 1957, spaceflight was no longer a mere pipe dream reserved for the pages of pulp fiction. Shortly after the peculiar satellite’s stunning series of orbits, an entire planet watched as mankind, against all odds, set foot on the moon, marking the dawn of the spacefaring age — and leading to some of the best space photos to date. In the half century since these historic achievements, we have launched a panoply of instruments into outer space, allowing us to better understand our infinitesimal sliver in the infinite void of the cosmos.
Since then, space agencies around the globe have proposed bizarre missions to whet our curiosities in the name of science. While many of these “far out” programs never left the launchpad — let alone the drawing board — plenty of pioneering probes have blasted through our atmosphere, through the outer reaches of our solar system, and, at least on one occasion, drifted into interstellar space. We have rendezvoused with asteroids, sailed through the rings of Saturn, and quite literally roved robotic marathons on the Red Planet. (In pure, 21st-century fashion, at least one of these rovers can’t seem to resist the occasional selfie.)
While most of us will probably never escape Earth’s gravity, a joint partnership between the International Space Station (ISS) and Google recently unveiled an interactive Space View platform — a variation of the Google Street View program. It lets those of us who never fully achieved our childhood dream of becoming an astronaut virtually tour the ISS and even peer out at a panoramic Earth from the Cupola bay.
Luckily for us, some of the most sophisticated imaging technology ever is currently making its way through our solar system, transmitting breathtaking images of the final frontier back to Earth for our gawking pleasure. From the early, grainy images of the Martian surface sent from the Viking 1 lander to humanity’s first close-up of Pluto’s moon, these glimpses of our celestial neighbors and those light-years away fill us with a sense of wonder. So without further ado, here are 50 of the best space photos to help you put our Pale Blue Dot in perspective.