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See the Earth like the astronauts do, check out One Strange Rock, the new science series from National Geographic Channel.


One Strange Rock Will Change You. No, Really — New Mind-Bending Science Series (#CleanTechnica Exclusive Interviews)

See the Earth like the astronauts do, check out One Strange Rock, the new science series from National Geographic Channel.

They say space changes you, and if you want to get an idea of what that’s like, you can talk to someone who’s been in space, and if you don’t have a chance to do that, you can catch One Strange Rock, National Geographic Channel’s new 10-episode science series starting tonight, which is a unique trip because the narrative thread for all 10 episodes is held by eight astronauts who create a window into the experience of how space changes you. Unless you don’t have a TV. In which case you can probably hear all about it from your friends.

CleanTechnica was on board with National Geographic Channel earlier this month for a preview screening and a round of interviews with some of the eight astronauts who participated in filming One Strange Rock, and yep, it is a person-changer. No, really.

What Is One Strange Rock Anyways?

“10-part science series” doesn’t quite grab everything that’s going on in One Strange Rock, so here’s a teaser:

From award-winning filmmaker Darren Aronofsky comes a mind-bending, thrilling journey that explores the fragility and wonder of planet Earth—one of the most peculiar, unique places in the universe.

Hmmm. Still not getting the full flavor, unless you know who Darren Aronofsky is (hints: Mother! and Black Swan and The Wrestler), or who Jane Root is (hint: Nutopia).

How about this: during a panel discussion (CleanTechnica attended as a guest of One Strange Rock) with the producers and the astronauts, Aronofsky observed:

Mother! is a cautionary tale, an allegory for not being connected to mother nature. One Strange Rock is all about respect for nature, and the planet as a spaceship.

Okay, getting somewhere now, although “respect for nature” doesn’t really convey the sensory explosions that drop on your eyeballs in One Strange Rock.

The Astronauts

I previewed some of the episodes (thanks Nat Geo Channel!) but I can’t really tell you what they’re like (the trailers will give you a teeny taste) because you really have to see for yourself. It’s kind of like if you were an astronaut getting ready to go into space for the first time and all the other astronauts who’ve been there before tell you what it’s like and they all say it will change you (not that it will change your life, that’s something different from changing you), so you think you know what to expect, but then you get up there and it does change you but in a totally different kind of way from everybody else, because they’re not you.

So, instead of me telling you what it’s like, here’s what the astronauts had to say during the panel discussion. One of them summed up the One Strange Rock experience in a way that captures a lot (sorry, forgot to jot down his name):

You’re looking at the Earth from a completely different perspective. That’s why life on this planet is so incredible.

Here’s a comment from astronaut Leland Melvin, also on the connection between One Strange Rock and viewing the world from space:

Home is where you break bread and celebrate the day’s accomplishments…It changes the way people want to belong to the planet.

Jerry Linenger also had something to say:

This show captures some stuff that is hard to explain, starting 14 billion years ago — think of the explosions and the heavy elements, and everyone here today has them in their bodies.

Mae Jemison who was the first African-American woman in space (1992, the Endeavor) had this to say about why she participated in One Strange Rock:

Someone asked me if I wanted to talk about how life began on Earth, and this project is very much connected to space. We’re connected to this planet and we’re connected to the rest of the universe.

That perspective dovetails with Ms. Jemison’s current work. Among her many credits, she heads up 100 Year Starship, a public participation space program. The project launched in 2011 with the aim of getting people to think seriously about interstellar travel, so check it out.

I asked Ms. Jemison how her work on 100 Year Starship connects with One Strange Rock, and she said:

Too many people have been excluded in the modern space age. This is a push for innovation from DARPA [the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency]. It’s holistic and transdisciplinary. There is not just one science involved.

The way to solve major problems is to have everyone involved. A big problem with the modern space age is excluding big, bold things — we need to give storytellers a way to participate.

One Strange Rock is not afraid of science. It’s very fulfilling to be pushing the narrative forward.

And, she echoed Aronofsky’s perspective on nature:

All the capabilities we need to travel in space are what we need for survival on this planet.

In answer to another question from the press, Jemison expanded on the role of storytelling and space exploration:

You have to tell the right story. You have to be pushing for the extraordinary world of tomorrow that creates a better world today.

From Exclusion To Inclusion

Speaking of inclusiveness, that is beginning to happen. I got a chance to buttonhole Jeff Hoffman during the red carpet part of the press affair (actually it was a yellow carpet but who’s counting), and he said that “lots” of his students at MIT want to be astronauts (he also said MIT also happens to have more astronauts in the space program than any other university ):

What’s exciting is that we now have people with much broader experiences [in space]. It used to be just military test pilots, and now it is a lot more diverse.

Jemison also spent some time with me on the red carpet and she emphasized that the exclusion was no accident:

Women wanted to be a part [of the space program] from the beginning but they were intentionally excluded…as a society we are making these changes, to develop all the talent. One Strange Rock brings it all together.

So, how close were we to having women among the very first batch of astronauts?

Jemison told me to look up The Mercury 13, a group of women who were training to become astronauts back in the late 1950s – early 1960s. According to Jemison, they outperformed their male counterparts, but the program was soon shut down.

The program was semi-secret, to try working around the anti-women bias, but NASA appears to forget that was in play. Here’s their rundown on the program:

Members of the First Lady Astronaut Trainees (FLATs, also known as the “Mercury 13”), these seven women who once aspired to fly into space stand outside Launch Pad 39B near the Space Shuttle Discovery in this photograph from 1995. The so-called Mercury 13 was a group of women who trained to become astronauts for America’s first human spaceflight program in the early 1960s. Although FLATs was never an official NASA program [note: yes, and why was that?], the commitment of these women paved the way for others who followed.

Err…well anyway, the Houston Press paints a somewhat more damning picture of the way the Mercury 13 group was treated, despite their obvious qualifications.

The training was summarily shut down in 1961 after President Kennedy announced the Moon Shot program. Here’s the Houston Press on that topic:

From that point on, NASA was locked on making the moon jump and using white, Protestant, jet test pilots, mostly from the Midwest, to do so. NASA was in a race with the Soviets for domination in space, and there was no longer room or interest in pursuing any avenues of research that did not lead directly to an astronaut planting an American flag on the moon.

Advocates for the group tried to keep the program alive, even to the extent of appealing to Congress, but they had to contend with opposing testimony like this comment from John Glenn (yes, that John Glenn):

“It is just a fact. The men go off and fight the wars and fly the airplanes and come back and help design and build and test them. The fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order.”

So, Russia sent the first woman into space in 1963 and that was that.

Where were we? Oh right, One Strange Rock. Speaking of storytelling and inclusion, take another look at last weekend’s March For Our Lives. That’s what happens when people who are almost always excluded from the conversation — children and teenagers — get heard.

When One Strange Rock went into production a couple of years ago, they had no way of foresee that in 2018, adults would finally sit up and listen to children and teenagers, but they did set out to make a science series that would go beyond the usual adult fare and bring everyone along for the ride.

Stay tuned for some followup, I didn’t even get to the Will Smith part.

Also, speaking of respect for nature check out our sister site Planetsave.

Follow me on Twitter.

Photo: via National Geographic Channel.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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