On its surface, Earth is chaos. It is traffic jams and the threat of nuclear war and fake news operations trying to punk real ones but owning themselves spectacularly in the process.
But launch yourself a couple hundred miles above the atmosphere, and Earth seems a different world. It is quiet. It is harmonious. The strife of human conflict, no matter how small or large, is rendered inconsequential. (You’ll also notice that Earth is round, not flat, but that is another story entirely.)
NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik felt this way on a recent spacewalk around the International Space Station, as he was refurbishing one of the station’s robotic arms. Floating above the planet, Bresnik couldn’t help but pause from his project and let his GoPro camera capture the splendor of the globe from his vantage point.
He tweeted the footage Monday.
“Sometimes on a #spacewalk, you just have to take a moment to enjoy the beauty of our planet Earth,” Bresnik wrote on Twitter.
His post soon went viral, shared thousands of times by those still at ground level who seemed to appreciate the literal change in perspective.
“A very peaceful planet,” one Twitter user commented. “It was hard to think that this place held so many problems, so many frustrations.”
Another observed: “Our leaders should go and see this wonderful view. There will be world peace.”
In the din of social media, there has always been something soothing and reductive about astronauts’ Twitter feeds, especially those on the International Space Station. There they are, on board the largest (and perhaps most expensive) object built, thanks to the convergence of some of the most advanced scientific discoveries of several lifetimes. They have passed rigorous physical, psychological and technical training to get to this point in their careers.
And yet, there they are, too, getting excited about the simplest of things: watching a sandwich float in space, eating freshly harvested lettuce, anticipating a cargo shipment of pizza and ice cream, and using a map to look up their location. It can be jarring, but joyful, to realize that these highly trained astronauts took the time to pack Halloween costumes and matching shirts for their expedition.
Bresnik has been in space since July, when he arrived with Russian astronaut Sergey Ryazanskiy and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency. Bresnik has remained on the ISS as part of the Expedition 52 and 53 crews, and he is scheduled to return from space in December.
Like many astronauts, several of Bresnik’s observations from space have gone viral, in part for their breathtaking views of Earth. He frequently tweets out side-by-side photos of places on Earth as seen from the ground vs. how they look from the space station, using the hashtag #OneWorldManyViews. The project was inspired, in part, by childhood days spent with his grandfather, who was a professional photographer.
“I have always thoroughly enjoyed using photography to try to capture the beauty of a moment or the excitement of an instant and share it with others. I can only hope that I can do the same during this International Space Station mission of Expeditions 52/53,” Bresnik wrote in September.
He said he hoped the project would inspire people from that location to reply from their vantage point on the ground.
“I also hope that those of you not from the location will look upon the beauty of that place from both the ground and from space and perhaps someday desire to see it for yourself,” Bresnik wrote. “In this small way perhaps our world becomes a little smaller, human-to-human.”
The new ISS crew’s social media posts are a welcome replacement after NASA’s Peggy Whitson departed the space station in September. Whitson set numerous records in her most recent mission to the space station, including one for the longest time in orbit in a single spaceflight for a female astronaut and for the most cumulative time in space, at 665 days, for any U.S. astronaut.
Whitson (a.k.a. @AstroPeggy on Twitter) also gained a following for exuberant social media dispatches from aboard the space station that showed her growing cabbage (“My 3rd crop did the best!”), doing strength training without gravity and conducting stem-cell research (“my favorite so far”), among other things.
“It is one of those rides that you hope never ends,” Whitson tweeted in April, shortly after she decided to extend her time in space by three months. “I am so grateful for all those who helped me on each of my missions! #LifeInSpace”