The Best Space Flight Photos of the Year

From the launch pad to a distant asteroid, these are the images that defined the year in space.


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By all measures, 2014 was an incredible year for space travel and exploration. As the commercial space industry took significant leaps into the future, NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Russian Space Agency all had landmark years.

NASA conducted a nearly perfect test flight of the new Orion space capsule, which is designed to one day carry humans to asteroids and even Mars.

In November, the ESA landed its Rosetta space probe on the surface of a comet 311 million miles from Earth. India's space agency successfully deployed a satellite in orbit around Mars—a first for the country. And in a move that reflects the growing privatization of space flight, NASA hired SpaceX and Boeing to develop ships that will transport astronauts to and from the ISS. On top of all that, humans conducted more than 80 orbital space launches.

Here are some of the year's most impressive photos that capture the exhilaration, triumph, and agony of our collective voyages into the vacuum of space.

Orion Flight Test Rollout.jpg

NASA’s Orion spacecraft mounted atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, about to be rolled out. (Credit: NASA)

Orion Flight Test Lights.jpg

NASA's Orion spacecraft prepares for launch. (Credit: NASA)

Orion Flight Test Launch.jpg

The test flight for NASA's Orion spacecraft was a resounding success. (Credit: NASA)

Orion Recovery.jpg

NASA's Orion capsule awaits recovery after a successful 4.5-hour test flight. (Credit: NASA)

Rosetta Comet Portrait.jpg

The ESA's Rosetta spacecraft captured this image of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko as it approached for landing. (Credit: ESA)

Chang’e 5-T1 On the Far Side of the Moon.jpg

China's Chang’e 5-T1 lunar exploration mission captured this stunning image of the far side of the moon with the Earth in the background. (Credit: CNSA)

Thunderheads Over Borneo.jpg

Thunderheads seen over Borneo, Indonesia. (Credit: NASA)

Kavir Desert in Central Iran from ISS.jpg

The Kavir Desert in Central Iran from the ISS. (Credit: NASA)

Great Lakes and Central U.S. from ISS.jpg

The Great Lakes and Central U.S. as seen from the ISS. (Credit: NASA)

Deployment of NanoRacks CubeSats.jpg

NanoRacks CubeSats (nanosatellites) are delpoyed from the ISS. (Credit: NASA)

NanoRacks CubeSats in Orbit.jpg

NanoRacks CubeSats (nanosatellites) begin their orbit. (Credit: NASA)

Astronaut Koichi Wakata Takes Photo Onboard ISS.jpg

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata snaps photos onboard the ISS. That's almost certainly a Nikon. (Credit: NASA)

Expedition 40 Flight Crew Portrait.jpg

The crew of ISS Expedition 40 poses for a zero-gravity portrait aboard the ISS. (Credit: NASA)

Boston from the ISS.jpg

A shot of's hometown: Boston, MA, from the ISS. You can almost see our offices in Cambridge. (Credit: NASA)

Soyuz Departs from ISS.jpg

A Soyuz capsule departs from the ISS. (Credit: NASA)

Soyuz Expedition 40 Launch.jpg

ISS Expedition 40 launches in Kazakhstan. (Credit: NASA)

Expedition 42 Soyuz Blessing.jpg

An Orthodox priest offers blessings before launch of ISS Expedition 42. (Credit: NASA)

Russian Mission Control Before Expedition 39 Docking.jpg

Russian Mission Control before Expedition 39 docks with the ISS. (Credit: NASA)

Expedition 42 Soyuz Rollout.jpg

A Soyuz rocket is locked in place for rollout of ISS Expedition 42. (Credit: NASA)

Expedition 41 Soyuz Rollout.jpg

The Soyuz spacecraft is rolled out for ISS Expedition 41.

Soyuz Expedition 40 Preflight Rollout.jpg

A Soyuz rocket is rolled out for the launch of ISS Expedition 40. (Credit: NASA)

Soyuz TMA-15M Rolls Out to Launch Pad.jpg

The Russian Soyuz TMA-15M rocket rolls out to the launch pad in Kazakhstan. (Credit: NASA)

Thumbs Up From Soyuz Commander.jpg

Flight engineer Alexander Skvortsov (ISS Expedition 40) gives a thumbs up after landing back on Earth. (Credit: NASA)

Soyuz Expedition 39 Landing.jpg

The crew of ISS Expedition 39 touches down in a Soyuz capsule. (Credit: NASA)

Ground Personnel Race to Soyuz Landing Site.jpg

Ground personnel race to a Soyuz landing site. (Credit: NASA)

Expedition 40 Flight Engineer Oleg Artemyev Landing.jpg

Flight Engineer Oleg Artemyev (ISS Expedition 40) looks out the window of a Soyuz capsule minutes after landing. (Credit: NASA)

Soyuz Expedition 41 Arrival Ceremony.jpg

The crew of ISS Expedition 41 is greeted with a traditional Kazakh ceremony. (Credit: NASA)


India's GSLV Mk. III rocket preps for launch in mid-December. (Credit: ISRO)

SpaceX CRS-4 Launch.jpeg

Launch of the SpaceX's CRS-4. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX CRS-4 Launch Timelapse.jpeg

A long-exposure photo of the SpaceX CRS-4 cargo resupply launch. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX ORBCOMM Launch.jpg

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches with six ORBCOMM satellites in tow. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX Dragon V2 Interior.jpeg

The high-tech interior of SpaceX's Dragon V2 capsule was unveiled in May. (Credit: SpaceX)

Orbital Sciences Antares Rollout.jpg

Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket is rolled out at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. (Credit: NASA)

Orbital Sciences Antares Spectators.jpg

Spectators watch as the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket launches into orbit. (Credit: NASA)

Orbital Sciences Antares Explosion.jpg

An Orbital Sciences Antares rocket suffers a catastrophic explosion after liftoff on a subsequent mission. (Credit: NASA)

ISS Sunglint Reflected Off Atlantic.jpg

Sunlight reflects off the Atlantic Ocean. (Credit: NASA)

ESA Resupply Vessel ATV-5 Approaches ISS.jpg

The European Space Agency's ATV-5 resupply vessel approaches the International Space Station. (Credit: ESA)

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