Books

An Astronaut’s Photographs of our Planet’s Beauty and Mutilations

View from Havana to Washington (photograph by Chris Hadfield/NASA)
View from Havana to Washington (photograph by Chris Hadfield/NASA, all images courtesy Little, Brown and Company)

Over his five months as commander aboard the International Space Station (ISS) from December 2012 to May 2013, Col. Chris Hadfield orbited the Earth every 92 minutes. While gazing down at the distant landscapes through their seasonal shifts, manmade and natural alterations, viewing new angles with the rotations of the planet beneath him, Hadfield took around 45,000 photographs. The highlights are compiled into a new book that brings gravity-bound readers on a tour of our world from above.

Cover of "You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes"
Cover of “You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes”

You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes was released by Little, Brown and Company last month, including 192 photographs organized by continent. This “astronaut photography” as Hadfield describes it is different from the incredible wealth of satellite imagery available to almost anyone online, as it gives a human eye to the both immense and minuscule details of Earth. As he writes in an introduction:

Being able to perceive the narrative line behind our planet’s shapes, shadows and colors is a bit like having a sixth sense. It provides a new perspective; we are small, so much smaller even than we may have thought. To me, that’s not a frightening idea. It’s a helpful corrective to the frantic self-importance we are prone to as a species — and also a reminder to make the most of our moment on this beautiful, strange, durable yet fragile planet.

Astronaut photography has been influential on the perception of our planet almost since the first space missions. Going back to 1968 on the Apollo 8 mission, William Anders snapped the famous “Earthrise” image of the blue planet dawning on the horizon of the Moon. A stunning perspective, it also became an environmental touchstone that influenced the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Likewise, Hadfield’s photographs have a resonance with the contemporary planet’s beauty and its problems. Development along the Mexico side of the border with California is pressed right to the line as if blocked by a force field; an aerial view shows the night lights of Cairo and Jerusalem in one frame with the winding Nile. Scars from the gas industry disrupt the topography of New Mexico, while Hadfield playfully comments on the shape of a “lone wolf” that seems formed by the geography of the Great Salt Lake.

With his 2013 An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, his time regularly tweeting photographs and posting videos on YouTube from inside and out of the ISS, the now-retired Hadfield has definitely been an advocate in bringing those down below in on the powerful perspective of space exploration. “The immediacy of the reactions and interactions, the collective sense of wonder, made me feel as connected to our planet and to other people as I ever have, though I was floating 250 miles above Earth in the company of just five other human beings,” he writes in You Are Here.

Despite our inundation with aerial views on Google Maps and other resources, the photographs are still a chance to see the world differently, to make you realize more strongly that, to paraphrase the Flaming Lips, we’re just floating together in space.

Venice, Floating
“Venice, Floating” (photograph by Chris Hadfield/NASA)
The End: The Nile, draining out into the Mediterranean. The bright lights of Cairo announce the opening of the north-flowing river’s delta, with Jerusalem’s answering high beams to the northeast. This 4,258 mile braid of human life, first navigated end-to-end in 2004, is visible in a single glance from space
“The End,” showing the Nile draining into the Mediterranean with the lights of Cairo at the opening and Jerusalem to the northeast. (photograph by Chris Hadfield/NASA)
San Francisco: Much of the densely built-up waterfront around San Francisco sits on landfill, often a blend of rubble and sediment dragged up from the bay. In a major earthquake, landfill is more prone to liquefaction than bedrock: it behaves like a liquid, shaking far more severely, and is more likely to give way altogether.
San Francisco,” revealing how much of the waterfront sits on landfill, often a blend of rubble and sediment dragged up from the bay. (photograph by Chris Hadfield/NASA)
Pereira Barreto: The area around Perereira Barreto in Brazil, about 400 miles north of São Paolo, was originally settled in the 1920s by Japanese immigrants who worked on coffee and sugar planation along the Rio Tietê. But in the 1990s, the river was dammed to create a hydroelectric power plant, flooding and permanently submerging many farms and even a suspension bridge across the Tietê. Today there’s a new bridge, and from this angle, the body of water looks like a millipede.
“Pereira Barreto,” the area around Perereira Barreto in Brazil, originally settled in the 1920s by Japanese immigrants who worked on coffee and sugar planation along the Rio Tietê. In the 1990s, the river was dammed to create a hydroelectric power plant, flooding and permanently submerging many farms and even a suspension bridge across the Tietê. (photograph by Chris Hadfield/NASA)
Mauritania The Richat Structure in Mauritania, also known as the Eye of the Sahara, is a landmark for astronauts. If you’ve been busy doing experiments and haven’t looked out the window for a while, it’s hard to know where you are, especially if you’re over a vast 3,600,000-square-mile desert. This bull’s-eye orients you, instantly. Oddly, it appears not to be the scar of a meteorite but a deeply eroded dome, with a rainbow-inspired color scheme.
The Richat Structure in Mauritania, aka the Eye of the Sahara, a landmark for astronauts. Hadfield writes: “If you’ve been busy doing experiments and haven’t looked out the window for a while, it’s hard to know where you are, especially if you’re over a vast 3,600,000-square-mile desert. This bull’s-eye orients you, instantly. Oddly, it appears not to be the scar of a meteorite but a deeply eroded dome, with a rainbow-inspired color scheme.” (photograph by Chris Hadfield/NASA)
Manhattan: Manhattan awake, 9:23 AM local time Manhattan at rest, 3:45 AM local time
Manhattan at 9:23 AM and 3:45 AM (photograph by Chris Hadfield/NASA)
Himalayas
Himalayas (photograph by Chris Hadfield/NASA)
Great Salt Lake (photograph by Chris Hadfield/NASA)
Great Salt Lake. Hadfield writes: “The largest saline lake in the western hemisphere attracts pastel-colored algae, brine shrimp and the birds that love them, but so far, just this one lone wolf.” (photograph by Chris Hadfield/NASA)
Detroit, Michigan, on the right, and Windsor, Ontario, on the left (photograph by Chris Hadfield/NASA)
Detroit, Michigan, on the right, and Windsor, Ontario, on the left (photograph by Chris Hadfield/NASA)
A cloud twist over Arica, Chile. Hadfield writes: "You see these frequently in this part of the world because the Pacific is cold, the land is warm, and the currents and winds combine to form a cloudy vortex—clockwise here, because it’s the southern hemisphere. North of the equator, the spiral would turn counter-clockwise."  (photograph by Chris Hadfield/NASA)
A cloud twist over Arica, Chile. Hadfield writes: “You see these frequently in this part of the world because the Pacific is cold, the land is warm, and the currents and winds combine to form a cloudy vortex—clockwise here, because it’s the southern hemisphere. North of the equator, the spiral would turn counter-clockwise.” (photograph by Chris Hadfield/NASA)

You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes by Chris Hadfield is available from Little, Brown and Company.

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