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Sunday, August 14, 2022

Bella Gaia: Our Beautiful Earth

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) calls Earth, “The Blue Marble.” 

This pale blue dot is just one rocky planet within one solar system, in one galaxy, among billions. To us, it’s home.

As NASA explores space, they study our planet and its expansive ecosystem: The vegetation, the air, the water, the ice. Their data is used to improve the way we grow food and how we manage the land we cultivate. NASA has over 20 satellites measuring the height of oceans and inland waters, clouds and precipitation, carbon dioxide, and much more. For decades, the data they have collected has tracked how all these earth systems interact. From above, they see the connection: Cities transitioning while our farmlands are deconstructing. Tributaries feed into rivers which flow into the sea. Winds move clouds around the planet. Beyond these observations, NASA’s ability to model and anticipate how the planet is changing helps communities around the world prepare. 

Earth’s climate has changed and is still changing. By looking at our planet from space, a team of scientists look at Earth as a beautiful oasis in the universe. A planet full of towering mountains, frozen landscapes, painted deserts; a planet teeming with life. One big ecosystem we’re all a part of. Even the destructive elements — hurricanes, volcanoes, wildfires, melting ice, rising temperatures — have a direct impact on our environment, our future and our lives.

NASA’s investment in space is conducted by scientists living in space on the International Space Station exploring our solar system. Each day they collect data from a fleet of Earth-observing satellites that orbit the planet 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The data they collect is used to better understand the planet’s interconnected systems and improve life on Earth. They have used their unique vantage point of space to monitor the health of crops, predict droughts and floods and help engineers and planners mitigate the effect of sea level rise, map changes in land, track wildfires, chart hurricanes and diagnose air quality. More than just observing these phenomena, NASA provides near real-time data to first responders and decision makers to provide help with its cutting-edge technologies.

Bella Gaia – An Immersive Experience

In “Bella Gaia, A Poetic Vision of Earth From Space,” Founder and Director, Kenji Williams, explains that “Bella Gaia” shows how humans and nature are connected and how art and science are connected. It’s an exploration of the relationship between human civilization and our ecosystem through time and space. 

“It starts with the name itself; Bella Gaia means “Beautiful interconnected Earth.” Also, ‘Gaia’ is originally the Greek Goddess of the Earth, or ‘the Earth personified,’ Williams said. “NASA scientist James Lovelock coined the term Gaia to describe the Earth as a living organism. It is human nature to relate to something that is more personal or tangible. Bella Gaia does exactly this – it is an experiential tool used to personify and make tangible, the living Earth.”

“Bella Gaia” is an unprecedented NASA-powered immersive experience, inspired by astronauts who spoke of the life-changing power of seeing Earth from space. “Bella Gaia’s” creation was inspired by a story by Mike Fincke, an American Space Shuttle astronaut, who spoke of the profound transformation of perspective he had when he first looked out the window of the Space Station and saw our home planet. “Arbitrary political boundaries melted away and the living bubble of life on Earth was dazzling, an outpost of life unlike any other planet we know of so far,” Williams said. 

Through its production, “Bella Gaia” has managed to simulate the space flight experience according to many astronauts who have been to space. “NASA invited the integration of scientific data visualizations from their top Earth scientists and funded a 4-year Earth science education program to extend “Bella Gaia” in workshop curriculum at science centers across the U.S.,” Williams said. “This program involved extensive surveys over four years, and revealed the transformative power of “Bella Gaia,” showing 95% of audiences reporting a greater understanding of Earth systems after just one show, and more than doubling the number of people (31% to 64%) saying it was ‘very important to learn about the Earth and its importance to our lives, families and community’ after one experience. This personalization of abstract biospheric systems is crucial and has converted climate skeptics in one show, and five astronauts have affirmed the realism of “Bella Gaia’s” simulation of space flight.”

One of the most substantial quotes came during a 1985 space shuttle mission, where Saudi Arabian Astronaut Sultan bin Salman Al Saud stated, “The first day or so, we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day, we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day, we were aware of only one Earth.”

In July of 2020, a blog post on bellagaia.com showcased a graphic that denotes the changes in European air travel from April 18, 2019, compared to April 16, 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The live imagery clearly shows the reduction of flight patterns when travel was banned throughout much of the world. “It can be overwhelming to see this macro-visual, doubting that one can change the trajectory of the planet’s future. But it’s quite the opposite. Every day you get to choose the ‘before’ or ‘after’ [as seen in the photo of air traffic]. You decide to purchase produce from a grocery store or a local farmer. You decide to drive to work or bike. It’s ultimately consumers who have the steering wheel. The global pandemic has forced all of us to sit back and finally give Mother Earth the stage. The virus, in some ways, was Mother Nature showing us tangible proof of our capacity to change the future. We can see it with our own eyes; there’s no question anymore.”

I really wanted to create an experience that transformed people,” Williams said. “There needs to be a new emphasis and value in emotional connections to very abstract things, like climate change. I asked Astronaut Mike Fincke what changed when he went into space. He said that he had a life-changing transformation when he looked out the window and saw Earth. When he came back, he had a much greater appreciation of our planet.”

The visuals provided during “Bella Gaia” are from NASA. It’s real-time satellite data. Williams said that he took that data and simulated it on a 3D globe. “It’s like seeing an MRI of the planet. It’s breath-taking and shocking at the same time. But the overall message is uplifting and inspiring,” he said.

It’s necessary for us to understand that Earth is a multifaceted, yet cohesive working organism and therefore, there is something to lose. It’s imperative, and our duty, to preserve and be stewards of our home.

For more information on “Bella Gaia” or NASA, visit www.bellagaia.com or www.nasa.gov

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