The view of the Jan. 15, 2023 Falcon Heavy rocket launch from the International Space Station.
What does a rocket launch look like? It depends where you see it from. Nearby, it looks like a fiery, roaring beast as the rocket and spacecraft ascend. If you’re on the International Space Station orbiting above Earth, you might see an ethereal, wispy ghost formation in the distance.
On Wednesday, NASA’s ISS account tweeted a look at SpaceX’s Jan. 15 Falcon Heavy rocket launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The stunning views are just as much art as science.
This view from the station shows the launch plume of the @SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket after its liftoff on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023, from @NASAKennedy in Florida. pic.twitter.com/TRWNggsGas
— International Space Station (@Space_Station) January 19, 2023
An external camera on the ISS captured the view of the launch plume. The images show a white, undulating shape reaching upward from above the curve of the Earth. The planet is dark below and space is dark above.
A Falcon Heavy launch is a special occasion. It’s SpaceX’s biggest rocket (at least until the next-gen Starship gets going) and it doesn’t launch nearly as often as the company’s standard workhorse Falcon 9. The January mission carried a US military satellite into orbit.
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The ISS was 262 miles (422 kilometers) above the Atlantic Ocean at the time, and it was just past an orbital sunset. Astronauts on board experience 16 sunrises and sunsets each day, but this one was notable thanks to the bonus fireworks of the launch.
SpaceX is just getting started on a busy 2023 launch schedule. ISS dwellers can look forward to more scenic views in the months ahead, but the combination of a sunset and Falcon Heavy will be hard to beat.