Awe-struck!

Breathtaking images of the world from space give fresh perspectives on our wonderful world prompting a response

‘Images from space are simply awe-inspiring … beautiful … epic,’ according to Jo Shinner, executive producer of the BBC TV series Earth From Space. ‘Sometimes you gasp at seeing places you know from a different angle. Other times you simply can’t work out what on earth they could be … Turquoise swirls like abstract art turn out to be gigantic ocean blooms of microscopic phytoplankton that are the lungs of our planet. Black dots on a sandy background turn out to be rubbish dumps of old tyres in a desert, and what looks like an exotic coral fan turns out to be a beautiful delta in Guinea-Bissau.’

‘It’s only really from space that you can see how tiny, fragile and unique this planet is, and also how everything is connected,’ adds series director Barny Revill. ‘You really get a sense of how, like the butterfly effect, something happening in one place can have an impact thousands of miles away.

‘Astronauts talk about the “overview effect” and to some degree this series gives the audience that. It is a very powerful way to look at the natural world.’

Galaxy

Satellite technology

The series has been filmed using high resolution commercial satellite technology where each pixel in an image represents 30cm on the ground. This means you can see buildings, cars and trees, and has led to the spectacular and detailed images we see in Earth from Space.

‘The images taken by satellites are so huge and so detailed that you can quite literally zoom down through them. If you can fly a drone high enough in the same location and under the same conditions you can combine the two to create a seamless zoom,’ explains series producer Chloe Sarosh.

We think of Earth as a blue planet, but satellite cameras reveal a kaleidoscope of colour. In the third episode of Earth from Space, we see the astonishing lights of the aurora – towering vertical streaks hundreds of kilometres high. Phytoplankton blooms turn the ocean into a work of art triggering a feeding frenzy, and China’s Yunnan province is carpeted in yellow, as millions of rapeseed flowers bloom for a few weeks each year.

With access to cameras in space, the series allows the audience to marvel in the sheer scale of the wonders on Earth, without leaving the comfort of their armchairs.

First photos from space

The first photos of Earth from space, dubbed ‘Earthrise,’ were taken by astronauts on the Apollo 8 mission and were just as awe-inspiring to the astronauts who took them and to TV audiences of the day. On Christmas Eve 1968 Apollo 8 astronauts Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman wanted to find words to express the wonder of what they were seeing. Broadcasting to the largest-ever media audience at the time, they decided to read from the Bible book of Genesis: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light…’

Fifty years later Borman recalled the Bible reading: ‘As we contemplated it afterwards we all agreed we couldn’t have done anything more appropriate.’

Giant leap

The Apollo 8 team was the first to orbit the moon in December 1968. The following July Neil Armstrong, commander of the Apollo 11 mission, took his ‘giant leap for mankind’. He was the first man to step onto the surface of the moon closely followed by fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

Aldrin was profoundly moved by the experience and radioed Earth saying ‘I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way.’ As a practising Christian Buzz Aldrin then used bread and wine he had brought with him to celebrate communion – the deeply symbolic meal that Jesus invited his followers to enjoy to remember his death and resurrection.

Aldrin later commented, ‘It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements.’

Space secret

The moon landing communion was kept secret. Later Aldrin wrote about it in his book Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon published in 2009. He said, ‘Perhaps, if I had it to do over again, I would not choose to celebrate communion. Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the moon in the name of all mankind – be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists. But at the time I could think of no better way to acknowledge the enormity of the Apollo 11 experience than by giving thanks to God.’

Apollo 15 astronaut James Irwin, the eighth man to walk on the moon, was also profoundly affected by the experience. He said, ‘I was just amazed to see the earth. It reminded me of a Christmas tree ornament – a very fragile one, hanging majestically in space. It was very touching to see earth from that perspective.’

At one point, Irwin was having difficulty with an experiment and decided to pray, ‘God I need your help right now.’

Suddenly Irwin experienced the presence of Jesus Christ in a way he had never felt on earth. The experience changed his life forever. He said, ‘I felt the power of God as I’d never felt it before.’

Life-changing experience

This unusual encounter with Jesus, some 238,000 miles from earth, changed Irwin’s life forever. Within a year of his return from space, he resigned from NASA and formed the High Flight Foundation, delivering a message of hope and peace around the world.

‘God decided that he would send his Son Jesus Christ to the blue planet,’ Irwin said, ‘and it’s through faith in Jesus Christ that we can relate to God. Jesus himself said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes unto the Father except through me.”

‘As I travel around I tell people the answer is Jesus Christ, that Jesus walking on the earth is more important than man walking on the moon.’

For two decades until he died in 1991, Irwin travelled the world to encourage others to take a leap of faith and experience the ‘Highest Flight’ possible with God.

Planet earth