|A Beautiful Planet|
|Directed by||Toni Myers|
|Produced by||Toni Myers|
|Written by||Toni Myers|
|Narrated by||Jennifer Lawrence|
|Music by||Micky Erbe|
|Edited by||Toni Myers|
|Distributed by||IMAX Entertainment|
|Box office||$25.7 million|
A Beautiful Planet is a 2016 American IMAX documentary film directed, written, and produced by Toni Myers. The documentary utilises footage recorded by astronauts aboard the International Space Station over the course of fifteen months. Narrated by Jennifer Lawrence, the film examines the daily lives of astronauts representing the respective space agencies for the United States, Russia, Europe, and Japan. It draws implications for the human impact on Earth.
A Beautiful Planet utilizes large-scale cinema screens to display worldwide capital cities illuminated by skyglow, lightning storms seen from above clouds, Super Typhoon Maysak as seen from its eye, polar auroras viewed from low Earth orbit, the Great Lakes of North America locked in ice and snow, and reefs below the surface of the Caribbean Sea.
A Beautiful Planet was originally released exclusively for IMAX theatres, amplifying the large scale geographical features of the Earth.
Scenes from the documentary show a snow-capped segment of South America's Andes, the longest continental mountain range in the world. The Andes stretch from Venezuela north of the Equator, through the Tropics, and down to southern Argentina, containing "some of the most extreme climate zones on Earth, from ice fields to deserts". The Andean Mountains includes Aconcagua, the highest peak in The Americas, as well as the highest in the Southern Hemisphere.
The movie presents Earth's driest and wettest areas with an overhead sequence of the Namib Desert on the east cleft by the Atlantic Ocean's Skeleton Coast on the west. The film repeats the consensus that the Namib is the "oldest desert" on Earth, having a desert climate longer than any other region in the world, and being around tens of millions of year longer than the Sahara.
A Beautiful Planet also presents images of kilometers of large scale deforestation in Madagascar. This evolutionarily isolated island suffers from widespread soil erosion and habitat destruction of the island's native wildlife, such as the lemur. The movie also displays the burning of the Brazilian rainforest from space, astronauts watching smoke rising from the Amazon jungle.
Despite A Beautiful Planet's sombre tone regarding climate change and environmental degradation, filmmaker Toni Myers wanted primarily to give moviegoers positive reasons why they might take better care of the Earth. She told the Los Angeles Times, "I wanted to inspire people especially as to how beautiful the planet is, how fragile it is, how complex and diverse and varied it is ... Most of all I wanted to show why we want to find solutions to look after our planet. It's our only one."
The film's cast consists of ISS crew from many nations. The astronauts who appeared in the movie included: Scott Kelly (NASA / USA), who spent roughly a year in space during a long, uninterrupted stay aboard the International Space Station, Samantha Cristoforetti (European Space Agency / Italy), who has spent more time in an uninterrupted spaceflight than any other European astronaut, Barry "Butch" Wilmore (NASA / USA), commander of the 42nd expedition to the ISS from November 10, 2014 to March 11, 2015, Terry Virts (NASA / USA), commander of the 43rd expedition to the ISS from March 11, 2015 to June 11, 2015, Anton Shkaplerov (Roscosmos / Russia), the commander of the Soyuz spacecraft that brought Cristoforetti and Virts to the Space Station, Kjell Lindgren (NASA / USA), a medical doctor who had previously worked as a flight surgeon supporting medical operations and space-station training at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and Kimiya Yui (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency / Japan), a space explorer who was made Head of the JAXA Astronaut Group after he returned from his stay on the Space Station.
The Space Station is a scientific laboratory, and many of the experiments on the ISS use the astronauts themselves as willing research participants to determine how spaceflight affects the human body. On March 28, 2015 Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko arrived at the Space Station to commence a much-discussed one year mission to study the health effects of long-term space travel. Scientists hope to analyze their mission and discover ways future space explorers might adjust to the effects of weightlessness, isolation, radiation exposure, and stress they would encounter in a 30-month-round-trip expedition to Mars, or in an even longer trip beyond Mars. Shortly after Kelly's arrival at the Space Station, A Beautiful Planet shows him participating in an initial examination of his eye, to study and correct any vision decline reported by many astronauts.
Scott Kelly has an identical twin, Mark Kelly, who is also a retired NASA astronaut. The brothers agreed to be the subjects of an unprecedented twin study; Mark stayed on Earth during Scott's eleven months aboard the ISS so that researchers could examine how an extended spaceflight affected Scott's body compared to Mark's. While Scott was in space and then continuing after he returned, both twins gave periodic blood samples and DNA swabs, and they underwent body scans and many other medical tests. In the epilogue to his 2017 book about the year long mission, Scott wrote that the very preliminary assessments of the data from the mission and from the twin study were promising:
The data is still being analyzed as I write this, and the scientists are excited about what they are seeing so far. The genetic differences between my brother and me from this year could unlock new knowledge, not only about what spaceflight does to our bodies, but also about how we age here on Earth. The Fluid Shifts study Misha [Mikhail] and I did is promising in terms of improving astronauts' health on long missions. The studies I did on my eyes - which don't seem to have degraded further during this mission - could help solve the mystery of what causes damage to astronauts' vision, as well as helping us understand more about the anatomy and disease processes of the eye in general.— Scott Kelly, Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery (2017)
In the critical taste test phase of an experiment with space farming, Kelly and his fellow Expedition 44 crew-members Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui are shown sampling red romaine lettuce that was grown in the Space Station's "Veggie" (or Vegetable Production) System. The Veggie series of experiments are designed to ensure that future explorers visiting the Moon, Mars or an asteroid have access to fresh produce, and also to provide them with an opportunity for relaxation and relief from stress or boredom.
When Samantha Cristoforetti arrives at the Space Station she greets crew members already aboard, and then moves to a portal window to look at the Earth from roughly 400 kilometers above the surface, orbiting at 28,000 kilometers an hour.
Describing her first view from the Station, Cristoforetti says, "I just couldn't resist taking a peek. I could see the Earth majestically flowing by, almost like a river. I don't know what happiness is, but I was definitely happy at that time."
A Beautiful Planet provides close-up footage of the Cupola, a domed, 360 degree observation bay on the nadir (Earth-facing) side of the Station's Tranquility module / Node 3. It has six outwardly-angled windows arranged around a central, circular window which faces directly toward Earth. The circular window measures 80 centimeters in diameter; it is the largest window ever sent into space. Many of the movie's scenes were filmed from the Cupola, and the astronauts themselves are shown taking photographs and gazing through its windows at views of Earth.
The Cupola was constructed by the European Space Agency for the utilitarian purpose of giving astronauts a workstation where they could observe the Earth, the exterior of the Station, visiting vehicles, and the operation of the ISS robotic arms. It also serves as a rejuvenation area where astronauts can relax and seek inspiration.
Much of the "training facility" aspect of the ISS mission is geared toward providing practical experience so that astronauts, space agencies, aerospace engineers and scientists are prepared for much longer space missions, including a possible human presence on Mars or the Moon.
Astronauts on the Space Station are required to spend approximately two hours each day engaged in physical training to prevent loss of bone density, muscle atrophy, and weightlessness. In the film, Terry Virts is shown receiving a cardiovascular workout by running on an ISS treadmill and Samantha Cristoforetti does strength training using an ISS exercise machine that mimics weightlifting exercises. Both machines have adaptations that permit them to function in a micro-g environment. The treadmill has a harness and bungee cord straps that keep astronaut runners from floating away from it, and the "weightlifting" machine replaces the weights (which don't "weigh" anything in orbit) with two canisters that create small vacuums against which exercising astronauts can pull.
The position of the Space Station in low Earth orbit is effectively just outside of the Earth's appreciable atmosphere, and is a training area in which astronauts can put on space suits, leave the ISS life support systems behind, and conduct spacewalks - or "Extravehicular activity (EVA)." An EVA may be undertaken to make repairs, reconfigure the Station to accommodate new modules, deploy new equipment, etc. The ISS orbits high enough to permit an astronaut and their sponsoring nation to gain valuable EVA experience outside of the atmosphere, but it is low enough to avoid the increased radiation exposure and other difficulties associated with climbing further out of Earth's gravity well. (If the Earth is compared to a 16-inch beach ball, the orbit of the ISS would be about half an inch above the beach ball's surface.)
Butch Wilmore and Terry Virts teamed up to perform three spacewalks over a nine-day period from February 21 to March 1, 2015, and A Beautiful Planet shows footage from some of their EVA activities outside the Space Station. While they worked, both explorers were acutely aware that spacewalks are inherently dangerous. In the movie, Virts explains that possible punctures to their EMU spacesuits were a particular concern because "you 'walk around' by grabbing onto things with your gloves ... The outside of the Space Station [is] a jungle of wires and equipment and metal bars and trusses. If you accidentally sliced your glove or your spacesuit on one of the sharp edges, that could create a leak, and if that leak were big enough, you would die." Describing some of the other EVA hazards, Wilmore elaborates that the temperature is "almost 300 degrees [Fahrenheit] on the Sun side of the Space Station, [but when] you get in the shade, it's minus 275 degrees. You feel that inside the suit. My fingertips in the sunlight would feel like they were on fire almost ... [Also,] you have a safety tether attached to the Station, and it's on a reel ... You can be upside down, twisted, inverted; you can completely lose your spatial awareness about where you are and what your attitude is, and you can easily get tangled up in that safety tether if you're not cautious. Every single movement you make, you're making an effort to think [things] through."
The final scenes of A Beautiful Planet briefly examine an extrasolar planet (a planet outside of our planetary system) which was discovered in 2014. The planet, Kepler-186f, was the first approximately-Earth-sized planet found to be orbiting within its star's habitable zone, or orbital area where liquid water could conceivably exist without freezing or vaporizing. It was the first discovery of an Earth-sized planet on which life could reside.
The name "Kepler" comes from its discovery by the Kepler Space Telescope, or "NASA Discovery Mission Number 10," a spacecraft observatory which is designed to find exoplanets in our region of the Milky Way Galaxy that are Earth-size and smaller, and that are within the habitable zone. The planet orbits Kepler-186, a red dwarf star about half the size and mass of the Sun which lies in the direction of the constellation Cygnus, about 500 light-years away. The number "186" in the planet's name refers to the order in which its planetary system was discovered while scientists processed all of the data produced by the Kepler Space Telescope. The planet is designated "f" because the first planet to be discovered in the system is designated as planet "b," the second discovered is "c," etc., and it was the fifth planet to be discovered.
Although the idea of interstellar travel to another planetary system like Kepler-186 is not feasible given current astronautics technology, some spaceflight futurists (like Samantha Cristoforetti) find value in speculating about the currently-impossible. In the film, Cristoforetti expresses the hope that someday future human explorers might have the opportunity to investigate the Kepler-186 system in person.
A Beautiful Planet was written, produced and directed by Toni Myers, who created seven other space-themed IMAX films such as Hubble 3D and Space Station 3D. The film premiered in Manhattan on April 16, 2016 and made its theatrical debut on April 29, 2016. Despite being announced as distributor, Walt Disney Studios later removed association with the film prior to its release.
A Beautiful Planet is narrated by actress, Jennifer Lawrence. Discussing her part in the movie's production, she said, "It was an honor for me to lend my voice to such a beautiful film that will educate audiences."
By narrating a science-themed IMAX documentary, Lawrence joined a group of well-known actors who recorded voice-overs for similar IMAX films, including Tom Cruise (narrated Space Station 3D) and Leonardo DiCaprio (narrated Hubble 3D).
When IMAX's CEO Richard Gelfond was asked to compare how much money IMAX had paid Cruise, DiCaprio and Lawrence to narrate their respective documentaries, Gelfond replied that none of them did it for the money.
The astronauts who filmed the movie used digital IMAX cameras, and much of the footage they produced was shot through the seven window panes on the Space Station's domed Cupola module. The use of digital cameras permitted cinematographer James Neihouse to review image sequences almost immediately and make suggestions for retakes, and was a lightweight alternative to using IMAX film which can be developed only when returned from space.
Myers and Neihouse coordinated with their astronaut camera crew to use of the digital cameras' augmented capacity for filming in dim light. According to Myers, "We would not have the nighttime scenes without the digital dynamic range ... What the digital capture did was totally open up that night world to us, with stars, cities at night, lightning and other phenomena that you see at night, like aurora."
There is speculation that once the movie's production team downloaded the image sequences, the cameras used for this film were incinerated on the ISS "trash dump" aboard a Cygnus resupply ship, due to the cost of returning items from the Station. (The Cygnus is a one-way cargo vehicle that is designed to burn up as it re-enters the atmosphere.) The total cost of sending and retrieving a single kilogram of supplies to and from the Station and Earth may exceed $40,000.
A Beautiful Planet has been well received by customary film reviewers, popular science publications, and audiences.
All 13 movie reviews listed on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film positive reviews. This movie received a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an 79% audience-enjoyment rating.
Much of the praise for the film centered around its unique cinematography. A review in the British newspaper The Guardian called it a "large-format eye-opener [which] achieves a breathtaking new perspective on Earthly life," while another appraisal in The New York Times asked, "how can your eyes not bug out when given 3-D views of Earth, taken from space, on a stories-high [IMAX] screen?"
At 22,837 feet (6,961 meters), not only is it the highest mountain in South America, it is the tallest peak in all of the Americas, as well as the Southern and Western Hemispheres.
With its red dunes rolling endlessly into the ocean, the Namib is the oldest desert in the world - a sea of silica stretching along Namibia's entire Atlantic coast.
Due to the arid or semi-arid conditions of the Namib, it has been considered a desert environment for approximately 55-80 million years.
The extension of ISS operation will allow NASA and the international space community to accomplish a number of important goals ... First, it will allow NASA to complete necessary research activities aboard the ISS in support of planned long-duration human missions beyond low-Earth orbit ... Second, ISS extension will extend the broader flow of societal benefits from research on the Station ... The ISS is also playing an increasingly important role in the study of the Earth and its changing climate.
Science is the primary mission of the International Space Station.
As [NASA] strives toward missions farther into the solar system, Veggie will be a resource for the crew's food consumption. It could also be used by the astronauts for recreational gardening during the long-duration missions to an asteroid, the moon or Mars.
The space station ... circles the globe every 90 minutes . . . In one day, the station travels about the distance it would take to go from Earth to the moon and back.
'Crews tell us that Earth gazing is important to them,' said Julie Robinson, space station program scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. 'The astronauts work hard up there and are away from their families for a long time. Observing the Earth and the stars helps relax and inspire them.'
Aside from keeping fit and staying on top of their game, the main reason astronauts work out during trip into outer space is because they suffer from a condition similar to osteoporosis, a disease that results in a significant amount of bone loss.
The Van Allen Radiation Belts [comprise a] region between 1,000 and 60,000 kilometers above Earth created by Earth's magnetic field. It contains trapped particles from the solar wind and protects astronauts below it. The ISS's orbital altitude was specifically chosen to be below this highly radioactive zone to protect astronauts.
The Kepler Mission, NASA Discovery mission #10, is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone and determine the fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy that might have such planets.
The five planets of Kepler-186 orbit an M dwarf, a star that is half the size and mass of the sun.
The number in each name refers to the order of the exo-solar system's detection or identification in the instrument's data ... The letter indicates the order of the planet's discovery around its host star. The first exoplanet discovered in another solar system is designated b; the second, c; the third d; and so on.
Striking out for any of the Earth-like exoplanets that have been discovered by long-range astronomy in the last decade ... might be accomplished by mastering theoretical 'wormholes' that burrow through the spacetime that's otherwise limited by the speed of light.
One lens used for the [movie] was incinerated aboard a Cygnus trash-dump. It's a $30,000 piece of glass, one that [Marsha] Ivins calls 'the most beautiful lens, be still my heart.' Regardless of the cost of the equipment—or any emotional attachments—it's an unavoidable part of space travel. The rest of the gear used for A Beautiful Planet will likely also be jettisoned into the abyss.
As the Cygnus approaches the end of its time connected to the station, astronauts will pack it with trash, spent experiments and other equipment no longer needed. It will all burn up as the spacecraft blazes through the atmosphere to end the flight with a safe impact in the Pacific Ocean.
Even getting simple things like food and clothes to astronauts on the space station ... takes a tremendous amount of money - the cost of bringing supplies to ISS is a minimum of $20,000 per kilogram, and by some accounting measures much higher than that.