Would You Look at that View?

Astronaut Terry Virts and the Sunrise Over Earth from Space

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Photo: Terry Virts

Enya’s lilting, lovely Gaelic song “Storms in Africa” drifts in a slow, spiraling melody—perfect for floating in a clear bubble in space while watching the sun spill molten light across the Earth’s bold blue horizon and into the infinite blackness of space. From this bubble, it’s easy to see Earth’s distinct atmosphere and climate converge into swirling, sparking storms curling along the landscape.

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Sunrises and sunsets show details in the atmosphere. (Photo from Instagram: @astro_terry)

So did astronaut Terry Virts enjoy this view with Enya’s soundtrack playing aboard the International Space Station. Inside the Cupola, a seven-windowed compartment he designed and installed, akin to a ball turret on a fighter plane, Virts took more than 300,000 photographs. Many are sunrise and sunset photos, he will no doubt confess, when he comes here Jan. 16 for his lecture about this experience, A View from Above.

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Oh, hey Florida! (Photo from Instagram: @astro_terry)

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Photo: Terry Virts

Imagine being able to see the watery green glow of the aurora borealis swimming below you but above the Earth, the overhead view of the perplexingly precise Egyptian pyramids, city lights of Calcutta exploding against the darkened backdrop of night. Virts experienced these awe-inspiring sights daily, taking more photographs in space than any other astronaut.

From the Cupola, Virts held “a front row seat to creation,” as he tells it. He took this once-in-a-lifetime role very seriously, capturing footage for A Beautiful Planet, the IMAX film narrated by Jennifer Lawrence, his lecture, social media and his book, also titled A View from Above.

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Virts inside the Cupola. (Photo: National Geographic Live)

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Virts looking up at Earth with all seven Cupola window shutters open. Despite the orientation of this photo, the Cupola is actually on the bottom. (Photo: NASA/National Geographic)

With as humbling and miraculous as his day-to-day job was during his mission on the International Space Station (ISS), the constant reminder of his separation from home, in time, wore on Virts and the crew. All the astronauts on this ISS expedition, though of differing countries, were Earthlings trapped in a capsule within sight of their home planet and no way to connect to it. “About halfway through my mission,” Virts wrote on his blog entry “Relaxing in Space” (12/2/17), “the Russian psychologists sent my Cosmonaut crewmates some ‘sounds from Earth,’ like waves, rain, birds chirping, a busy café at lunchtime, etc. Those sounds quickly became a favorite way for my whole crew to reconnect with Earth; everyone loved them, Americans, Italians, and Russians. I fell asleep to the sound of rain for about a month.”

Virts retired from NASA in August 2016, launching a new career as a lecturer and educator. He appears at The Straz as part of the National Geographic Live series, the first speaker of our season. To get more familiar with Virts before you come to his talk, follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

For tix to his lecture, get ‘em here.

Antarctica

We wanted to personally interview Terry for this blog, but he was indisposed doing adventurous stuff in Antarctica and couldn’t talk with us by our deadline. And we thought it was cold last week in Florida. (Photo from Instagram: @astro_terry)