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Familiar sights from alien heights

Ron Garan / NASA

A nearly new moon takes on an otherworldly glow in a picture taken from the International Space Station. "This is what the moon looked like 16 times today," astronaut Ron Garan writes.

Common sights like the streets of New York or a setting moon take on an unearthly look when they're seen from the International Space Station.

This photo of the just-past-new moon was taken after one of Sunday's sunsets by Ron Garan, one of the six astronauts aboard the space station.

It's just "one of" the day's sunsets because the station circles Earth every hour and a half, passing through multiple cycles of day and night, sunrise and sunset. The sun's wavelengths are refracted by the edge of Earth's atmosphere to produce a beautiful display of red and blue rising up from the horizon toward the moon. Even the dark of the moon is slightly light, thanks to the "Earthshine" reflected by our planet's surface.

"This is what the moon looked like 16 times today from space," Garan wrote.

Garan's pictures serve as a reminder that NASA's human spaceflight program is alive and well despite this month's retirement of the space shuttle fleet. Americans, Russians and spacefliers from other countries are due to continue their work in orbit for years to come, supported by Russian, European and Japanese transports — and soon by commercial U.S. spaceships as well.

During the current rotation, Garan has been serving as the six-person crew's unofficial photographer, taking over from Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli. Garan's orbital snapshots appear on his Twitpic page, and you'll find many more musings about life in space on his website, Fragile Oasis.

Right now Garan is in the midst of a series of blog postings about "the next chapter of human spaceflight," he's working on zero-gravity experiments focusing on fuel efficiency and plant growth, and he's also getting set to play a supporting role inside the station during this week's Russian-led spacewalk. But he still found time to take awesome pictures of these earthly scenes from nearly 250 miles (400 kilometers) abpve.

Ron Garan / NASA

The boroughs of New York City are on display in this image captured from the International Space Station. "Looks like it was a great day in the Big Apple from space," NASA astronaut Ron Garan writes.

Ron Garan / NASA

Greece, Turkey and their surroundings are spread out in shades of blue and brown in this space-station view. "From the Black Sea to the Nile to Libya, a wonderful view of our fragile oasis," NASA astronaut Ron Garan writes.

"You're struck by the indescribable beauty of our planet," Garan told the New York Daily News' Mike Jaccarino. "You feel this overwhelming gratitude that we've been given this gift. It fills me with some sadness, too, though, at how we've treated this gift, to see how fragile it is, and see that paper-thin atmosphere.

"I wish everybody could see this with their own eyes."

Until then, Garan and his fellow fliers will just have to keep on giving us the next-best thing.

More views from space:

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