After watching the IMAX film “A Beautiful Planet,” I was fortunate enough to interview director Toni Myers, cinematographer James Neihouse, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) Gavin Schmidt, as well as astronauts Terry Virts, Butch Wilmore, Kjell Lindgren and Marsha Ivins.
Do you think you’re on the cutting edge of a new industry, like space film, motion graphics?
James Neihouse: I think with VR and augmented reality happening, I think in space is the perfect place to do that sort of thing because it’s sort of like IMAX, you’re taking an audience and giving them an experience they don’t get any other way and IMAX and space have done very well with that.
The first shot of being in ISS was really great in terms of just, it really felt disorienting for a second. I wonder what’s it like to acclimate to that environment so incredibly different and how long does it take?
Terry Virts: It’s alien, in the purest sense of the word. It’s an alien environment. For me, well this is my second flight so I kind of adapted right away. But then when you go in this big environment it can be really dizzy and disorienting and you don’t know which way is up or down. We label the walls up or down but you don’t feel that. There’s no sense. If you flipped yourself upside down, after a couple seconds, that’s the new up and so that can be disorienting.
So when you think about your time in space, has it impacted your view of humanities future at all or the planet’s future?
Virts: You know I think people ask that about your religious views or spiritual views and I don’t know of anybody who’s been changed by space maybe heightened or strengthened in your views before. I look at it as creation and like somebody really smart and creative made the world and people and life and stuff. It’s just an amazing place. It was really cool to see, like seeing the Earth is amazing but you could see the moon and the planets if you turn all the lights off, like here at night time you cant see the stars because there’s too much ambient light, but if turn all the lights off, man there’s a lot of stars out there cuz you are out in space. That was really neat to see that so I think strengthens rather than, for me, change my views. Sometimes I felt like I was seeing something I shouldn’t see, like humans weren’t meant to see this. There was a sunrise in particular on one of spacewalks that was amazing, it was like was hearing from God. It was amazing.
Where did this sort of come from? What was the germinal kind of idea behind the movie?
Toni Myers: Well I had just finished the one we did previous to this which was Hubble 3D and in fact the narrator for that film was Leonardo Diccaprio and we were talking around the recording session, and I knew that Leonardo was quite an environmental advocate and he had made some of his own documentaries and he had seen a film I had been a part of in 1990, an IMAX film called Blue Planet when he was 10. So we got talking and said I really wanted to go back and make another Earth looking film because 20 years had gone by and it was time to take another look. There’s a whole new audience out there that didn’t experience the first one so that was the germ of it.
Is it possible to see which areas are in the most trouble and what they would need on the ground?
Gavin Schmidt: Right, so you have a short way of looking at like Califronia and saying oh it looks kind of brown. We can actually track that kind of more quantitatively. So you can see places around the world where the drought is really having an impact and we know that droughts cause all sorts of problems that you can then estimate. We have things like water born diseases, like malaria and cholera actually follow weather events as well so we can look at weather events from space and that actually provides early warning to health professionals all around the world, both here and locally. We’re connecting the dots to public health outcomes to security outcomes like national security that you can see from orbit. You get this unique view but it does go into real decisions and real issues on the ground.
Butch, there’s point in the movie where you say you see all these borders on the earth and it’s a little bit sad. I know you’ve flown some combat missions, is there something about that, that informs now how you see the world, how you see borders?
Butch Wilmore: Well you don’t see borders except for this one between Pakistan and India. It’s very prevalent, the orange line is very prevalent. What I say is I think is something along the lines that we have different ideals and different thoughts and ways we think life should be and sometimes that creates conflict and that’s unfortunate that we cant have more harmony. You look down at Earth from space and its gorgeous. I mean it beautiful, the colors, it’s sensor overload. In one four hour period, I saw the mouth of the Amazon River, the Red Deserts in Australia, the blue Pacific Ocean and the desert of the Baja peninsula. It’s just gorgeous but the people down there are in conflict.
Is there anything as an astronaut, maybe the top two things that you miss when you’re up there?
Wilmore: You know, you’re in such a unique environment that I was not going to let myself long for anything. I couldn’t be with my family, you can’t change it, so I wasn’t even going to long for that or a cheeseburger or anything.
What is the most stressful part of the spacewalk?
Kjell Lindgren: It’s what we would describe as one of the more dynamic things in space. We have launch, we have landing, and then we have the spacewalks. Over the course of an expedition, I think it’s the most dangerous thing we would do. We take a miniature spacecraft out to do work so its physically very intense and I would say this for myself it’s the most difficult, most challenging thing I’ve done physically and mentally in my life.
Does strong feel different in space?
Lindgren: I think that you maybe lose the sense of strong little bit simply because with the right foothold, Marsha and I could move a massive piece of equipment by ourselves. In fact if you’re smarter about it, like I might tend more to muscle a piece of equipment around where as Marsha would a little more smarter about it and be able to maneuver it more adeptly simply because I’m just kind relying on trying to muscle something around. We spend a lot of time exercising, so every day an hour of resistance exercise on a motion that can provide up to 600 pounds of resistance so we do squats and deadlifts and bench press and reverse deadlifts. All these exercises to try and preserve the load bearing joints and bones in our body and to preserve muscle strength. Then we do treadmill and exercise bike to preserve aerobic fitness so from a strength perspective, I think we’re doing a pretty good of preserving that but on a day to day basis there’s more fitness to being in weightlessness than to brute forcing things.
Marsha Ivins: Yeah, I could be very strong and move the same 2000 pound block as he could but I still couldn’t get a connector of the wall.
The film hits theaters on April 29.