An IMAX Trip to the International Space Station Makes One Thing Clear About Our Planet

It’s the only one we’ve got.

May 10, 2016

What’s it like to zoom 200 miles into space at a speed of five miles a second—in a satellite as big as a six-bedroom house? Watch A Beautiful Planet and you can come close to finding out, without all the astronaut schooling and zero-gravity training. More important, you’ll take in Earth from a new perspective.

Directed by Toni Myers and narrated by Jennifer Lawrence, the IMAX film shows our planet through the windows of the International Space Station, where our 8,000-mile-wide globe floats slowly by like a river of color and exploding light. Evening thunderstorms light up central African jungles like the blasts of a B-52 bombing mission. Typhoons twisting in the Pacific resemble gigantic, puffy cones of Charmin, even as they rip up the seas beneath them. At night, yellow speckles map out our cities in the darkness while auroras undulate in green luminescence at the poles. But A Beautiful Planet is not just pretty space candy.

The film (now playing at select theaters around the country) takes a wide-angle view of the planet and its problems through the eyes of the space travelers. From above, they witness smoke smearing across the Amazon and the lush green forests of Madagascar becoming rivers of red mud as they are cleared. Brown farm fields appear as the space station passes drought-plagued California, and while above the Himalayas, astronauts watch the mountains’ dwindling snowpack wash into rivers that feed into the Ganges delta, what the narrator calls “pipelines of all kinds of pollution” pouring into the Indian Ocean.

It took a lot of human ingenuity to build and launch the solar-powered space station, but it doesn’t hold many people—certainly not 7.4 billion. Is there another planet out there like ours among the billions of galaxies and stars? Perhaps. But for now this is the only home we’ve got.

“As human beings, we need to start to consider ourselves more and more as crew members of this Earth—not passengers,” says Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. “Nobody gets a free ride.”

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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