Astronauts aboard the International Space Station got a front-row seat to some rare atmospheric “fireworks.”
On Wednesday (Nov. 29), the Russian Progress MS-23 cargo spacecraft departed from the International Space Station (ISS) with a load of refuse no longer needed on the orbital outpost. Specifically, the spacecraft was carrying “old equipment and household waste, or everything the experts have decided to toss from the station,” Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko told Russian media outlet TASS.
Just four hours after Progress MS-23 undocked, NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli was able to locate the reentering spacecraft and photograph it as it burned up in Earth’s atmosphere, leading to some incredible photographs taken from aboard the ISS.
“It happened faster than I thought and was only visible for about 2-3 minutes. It reminded me a bit of fireworks, especially when it broke apart,” Moghbeli wrote on X (formerly Twitter) on Wednesday. “Thanks to those on the ground who helped direct me in where to look!”
Related: Russian cargo spacecraft ends mission with fiery return to Earth
Most of the spacecraft and its contents were incinerated high above Earth, but some of the material made its way down into the Pacific Ocean, Russian space agency Roscosmos reported on Wednesday.
Such fiery reentries are standard practice for non-reusable cargo craft departing the ISS. Two of the three spacecraft currently used for freight deliveries, the Russian Progress capsule, and Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus vehicle, are routinely disposed of in the atmosphere once they have delivered their supplies and room on the station’s docking ports is needed for a new cargo delivery.
The third spacecraft currently in use for these cargo runs, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, is able to return home for safe splashdowns and future reuse, however.
Another Progress spacecraft is set to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:25 a.m. EST (0925 GMT) on Friday, Dec. 1, carrying three tons of food, fuel and other supplies for the astronauts and cosmonauts currently aboard the space station as part of the Expedition 70 mission.
Docking is set for 6:14 a.m. EDT (1114 GMT) on Sunday (Dec. 3). You can watch the launch and docking here at Space.com, when the time comes.