Russia's Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft departs from the International Space Station on Sept. 11, heading toward a landing in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russia's Alexander Misurkin came back to Earth after five and a half months on the space station.
The Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft fires its retro rockets as it touches down in a remote area of Kazakhstan on Sept. 11. The capsule brought Russia's Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin, along with NASA's Chris Cassidy, safely back to Earth after their stint on the International Space Station.
Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli, Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen, Russian cosmonaut Aleksei Ovchinin, Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa and NASA astronauts Mike Barratt and Jack Fischer make their way underground on the island of Sardinia, Italy, in a photo released on Sept. 17. The exercise is part of their training for spaceflight. In some ways, the "cavenauts" are in an environment that's riskier than the International Space Station. For example, in an emergency, astronauts in space can return to Earth faster than the cavenauts can ascend to the surface.
The lights of New York City shine on Sept. 20, as seen by NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg aboard the International Space Station. One of the solar panels from a Russian spacecraft docked to the station protrudes into the center of the camera's field of view.
A stationary camera on the International Space Station took this picture of the Japanese HTV-4 cargo spacecraft as it entered Earth's atmosphere on Sept. 7, subsequently burning up. HTV-4 was launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency on Aug. 4 to bring up supplies for the station's crew, and after spending a month docked to the orbital outpost, it was released on Sept. 4.
Han Solo was famously, and creepily, frozen in carbonite in "The Empire Strikes Back." Ever since then, the gruesome image of the dashing pilot stretched out and trapped has become a pop-culture icon. NASA joined in the fun on Sept. 13, distributing a picture of Mercury's surface that was captured by the Messenger orbiter in 2011. The photo was titled, "He Will Not Be Permanently Damaged," after a line from the film.
This light-year-long knot of interstellar gas and dust, shown in a picture from the Hubble Space Telescope on Aug. 29, resembles a caterpillar on its way to a feast. But the meat of the story is not only what this cosmic caterpillar eats for lunch, but also what's eating it. Harsh winds from extremely bright stars in the Cygnus OB2 association are blasting ultraviolet radiation at this "wanna-be" star and sculpting the gas and dust into its long shape.
An enlarged portion of this image shows an unfortunate frog flying in the air as NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, blasted off from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Sept. 6. LADEE will go into lunar orbit to study the moon's thin atmosphere and surface dust.
•Frog pops up in NASA photo
Technicians work on NASA's next Mars-bound spacecraft, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter, as it is displayed for the media at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 27. MAVEN is the first spacecraft devoted to exploring the Martian upper atmosphere, and it is due to be launched aboard an Atlas 5 rocket later this year.
Layered bedrock in the center of a 9-mile-diameter impact crater on Mars is seen in this image released on Sept. 26 by the science team for HiRISE, the high-resolution camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The blue hues are false colors that scientists use to represent different types of surface composition.
An employee stands near the spacesuits of U.S. astronaut Michael Hopkins and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 14. The three spacefliers were launched to the International Space Station on Sept. 26.
NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins checks equipment inside Russia's Soyuz spacecraft during a training session at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept 14. The picture was taken through the window of the spacecraft.
A Russian Soyuz-FG rocket booster sends the Soyuz TMA-10M spaceship into orbit from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 26. The long-exposure photo captures the rocket's bright trail as well as the turning antennas in the foreground. The Soyuz capsule carried NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky to the International Space Station.
The Harvest Moon rises over the Lincoln Memorial, the U.S. Capitol and the under-repair Washington Monument in the nation's capital on Sept. 19. The Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox - so named because farmers could harvest their crops by the light of the moon.
The Prawn Nebula glows in an image captured by the VLT Survey Telescope at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, the world's largest telescope that's designed for surveying the sky in visible light. The image, released Sept. 18, shows clumps of hot newborn stars nestled among the nebula's clouds. Located about 6,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Scorpius, the nebula formally known as IC 4628 is a huge region filled with gas and clumps of dust.
A fresh scar on the north side of Indonesia's volcanic Paluweh Island, seen in this Sept. 4 image from the Landsat 8 satellite, is a visual reminder of the unpredictability of volcanic eruptions. Since the current eruption of Paluweh (also known as Rokatenda or Palue) began in late 2012, debris and ash had mainly flowed south from the summit, toward the bottom edge of this image. But on Aug. 10, a small eruption deposited material to the north and killed five people.
The spiral galaxy IC 2560 in the constellation of Antlia the Air Pump, more than 110 million light-years from Earth, whirls in a picture from the Hubble Space Telescope that was released on Sept. 2. The spiral is what astronomers call a Seyfert-2 galaxy, characterized by an extremely bright nucleus and very strong emission lines from certain elements - hydrogen, helium, nitrogen and oxygen.
The crescent moon and planet Venus, at upper left, are seen in the sky over Amman, Jordan, on Sept. 8.
The Milky Way stretches across the sky above the European Southern Observatory's 3.6-meter telescope at La Silla, Chile, in an image released Sept. 12.
Humorous signs are posted outside the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Sept. 16, in advance of the launch of Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket. The Antares sent Orbital's unmanned Cygnus cargo craft to the International Space Station.
Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket, topped by the Cygnus cargo spacecraft, rises from Pad-0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Sept. 18. The picture was taken with an infrared camera, which explains the unnaturally vivid hues. The Cygnus capsule carried about 1,300 pounds of supplies to the International Space Station.