These images are extraordinary. Not only because they're beautiful, but because they document a future that is now gone forever. This is the first and only time you will ever see the space shuttle docked to the space station.
While ground telescopes have captured the shuttle and the ISS together before - as tiny specks of light against the vastness of space or silhouettes against the sun - these are the first images ever taken in first person from another spacecraft. The detail is amazing. These images make me think of the grandeur of Kubrick's 2001. But this is real, a unique perspective that nobody ever saw until now. I wish there was a video.
These photos were taken by ESA's astronaut Paolo Nespoli as his Soyuz TMA-20 was flying away from what was his home for 159 days.
Flying at 354km above the surface of Earth, Paolo and his colleagues from Expedition 27 - cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev and my adored Cady Coleman - were witness to this extraordinary opportunity that nobody would have ever again: This is the penultimate time any ship from the space shuttle fleet is going to be docked there, but no Soyuz departures are scheduled for the time Atlantis is going to be there (for the last time. Single tear).
I wonder what was in their heads as they departed. Perhaps Cady had Strauss in her mind, but maybe it was the third movement of Debussy's suite bergamasque. It kind of fits the sadness of the goodbye, knowing that this magnificent view was going to be gone forever. [ESA via NASA Goddard - Thanks Rebecca!]