Wouldn’t it be ironic if astronauts got to go up to space only to see no stellar beauty?
While it’s true that astronauts often can’t see stars from orbit, it doesn’t have to do with whether or not there’s an atmosphere. It’s actually pretty simple, and it’s the same reason you can’t see stars in the middle of the day: That dang sun.
If the sun is out, it reflects a massive amount of light off Earth’s surface, far more light than any stars (other than our sun) are giving off. On Earth, the molecules in the atmosphere scatter the sun’s light and make our sky blue and starless in the day time. To an astronaut on the day side of Earth, there’s no atmosphere to scatter a blue sky, but the effect on the stars is equally obfuscating.
Staring into the void, an astronaut’s eyes don’t have the dynamic range to see tiny, dim dots of light when there’s other sources of illumination around. It’s similar to how it’s hard to look out a window into the dark of night when you’re in a lit room.
The same thing happens on the moon. That’s why Apollo pictures are so brilliantly lit, but the sky above them is devoid of stars.
If an astronaut is on the night side of Earth, and there’s no light from the moon, then they can definitely see stars. Here’s some gorgeous video proof: