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'A Beautiful Planet' Offers an Astronaut's-Eye View of Earth

'A Beautiful Planet' Offers an Astronaut's-Eye View of Earth

It's 7:30 a.m. aboard the International Space Station, and for Flight Engineer Dr. Kjell N. Lindgren, the morning routine is pretty standard. There’s breakfast, morning hygiene, a glance at the day's schedule, and a quick survey of the news and weather. And of course, drinking coffee from a zero-gravity espresso cup.

All this and more is depicted in the new IMAX film A Beautiful Planet. The movie is a fascinating juxtaposition of the daily life of astronauts inside the ISS research lab, training facility and observatory, paired with breathtaking views of natural phenomena such as the aurora borealis.

IMAX, in partnership with NASA, released the movie to showcase the beauty of Earth in a way that has not been captured before, while offering a glimpse at what it’s like to live and work in the absence of gravity. But beyond the jaw-dropping images of a sunrise across the horizon of the Earth or the dramatic 25-mile wide eye of Typhoon Maysak above the Philippines, comes an interesting perspective from the astronauts themselves.

 "When you are on the Space Station, you can see the entire face of the Earth. Much like the space station, the Earth is hanging there in the cold black void of space, and it becomes very clear that it is also a space station,” says Lindgren. “It is our space station that provides us with food, water, oxygen to breathe, and protection from radiation, and yet we don't spend anywhere near the same amount of time thinking about the Earth like we do the Space Station.”

And from their unique perspective, it’s possible to literally see the effects that deforestation, global warming and civil war have had on our planet. But there are also stories of conservation and success visible to them, such as the revival of the Chesapeake Bay.

 Often deemed "Spaceship Earth," the Space Station bears some semblance to our own planet. It was constructed collaboratively 15 years ago, with help from 16 countries, many of which had never shared their expertise with each other. Not only is this modern marvel of engineering "a bridge in our journey to Mars, it’s also an example of what we are able to do when countries come together and work together peacefully," Lindgren said.

Ever wonder what it takes to be an astronaut? Here are five things Lindgren shared that may come as a surprise to any aspiring space travelers in your family.

Intense Training: Because there is limited medical capability in space, astronauts are selected based on pristine physical health. "We spend hundreds of hours training in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, a six-million-gallon pool in Houston which provides a mock-up of the space station."

Walking in Space: The space walk is one of the most dangerous endeavors an astronaut faces. "If you imagine being in space is one thing, being outside in a space suit is another thing altogether. It is also probably the hardest thing mentally and physically that I have ever done with little time to enjoy it." In addition to all of the tasks an astronaut has to accomplish such as repairs and maintenance, there is a constant monitoring of the space suit, body position and hand position to make sure nothing penetrates the glove.

Fight to Stay Strong: Muscle atrophy is just one of many negative effects of weightlessness on the human body. To counter these, astronauts complete two-and-a-half hours of exercise each day including squats and other core exercises to load the bones, prevent bone loss and maintain muscle strength. Additionally, the treadmill and exercise bike help maintain cardiovascular fitness while an exercise device provides up to 600 pounds of resistance.

Room with a View: Every space flight offers unique viewing opportunities of planet Earth. "Even for veteran fliers, regardless of where you're flying over the Earth, it is always different. The lighting is changing, the weather is changing, the seasons are changing." For Lindgren, the most breathtaking visual was the aurora borealis. "It was something my brain wasn't prepared for. To see it in real life, with my own eyes, it was the only experience up there that gave me goose bumps."

Nonstop Schedule: Astronauts spend a great deal of their time maintaining the International Space Station. "This oasis in space provides us with a place to live, food, water, oxygen to breathe and protection from radiation." Maintenance is built into an astronaut's daily schedule as he/she has a responsibility to fellow crewmates, those crews that follow, and to the space station itself to maintain and take care of it. 

Lindgren has spent 141 days in space on Expeditions 44 and 45 aboard the International Space Station. While happy to be home with his family, the one thing he misses about space is floating. "It is a lot of fun to float places... much quicker than having to walk."

For more of an inside scoop on the life of an astronaut, check out A Beautiful Planet, now playing in select IMAX theaters nationwide.


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