Just after 8 p.m. EST tonight, the Soyuz spacecraft will undock from the International Space Station and, after an ISS record-setting 342 days in space, astronaut Scott Kelly will be heading home.
Three hours later, Kelly — along with Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov — is expected to touch down in Kazakhstan (watch live here). In the year since Kelly last felt earth beneath his feet, he’s contributed to a wealth of extraordinary research into the physiological and psychological effects of long-term spaceflight — and he’s posted a wealth of extraordinary Instagram photos.
And the thing is, those photos might be the more important accomplishment. Because in the year since Kelly left Earth, the United States has, with his help, experienced a momentous sea change.
Between the social media success of Kelly and fellow astronauts, the serious plans to get humans on Mars (not to mention the success of The Martian and the discovery of water there), the overwhelming response to NASA’s open call for astronauts, the detection of hundreds of hidden galaxies, the historic five-planet alignment, the safe landing of history’s first reusable rocket, the discovery of gravitational waves, the preponderance of private spaceflight firms, the Pluto flyby, and the possible discovery of Planet 9, we’re all more excited about space than we have been in a long, long time.
The second golden age of space travel is here.
See some of the photos that helped make that happen and celebrate one astronaut’s incredible year in space with this collection of the best Scott Kelly photos:
For the complete photo record of Scott Kelly’s time in space, check out his Instagram. Then, check out NASA’s gorgeous new space travel posters, the space colonies NASA designed in the 1970s and thought we’d be living in by now, these stunning vintage NASA photos, and more incredible photos and facts from the depths of outer space.