Above the Pacific Ocean, a view from the International Space Station (ISS) by an Expedition 7 crewmember on July 21, 2003 (via NASA)
The journey into space that astronauts experience is a heralded feat that only few can claim to have accomplished. Our bodies come from the earth and thus are physiologically bound to its gravitational pull. However, astronauts who have left the atmosphere report experiencing what has been called the overview effect - a shift in conscious awareness in relation to oneself and the earth. To have the privilege of experiencing such a change of scenery must leave one with a greater perspective on the connectedness we all share with each other and with our big blue planet.
This effect has inspired Larson and a team of Russian scientists to give people all around the world the opportunity to experience a similar view of our watery planet from space.
Larson recently launched Urthecast, a website dedicated to streaming HD video from the International Space Station. The website will offer almost-live footage, ranging from 30 minutes to a few hours behind real-time, that will be free to view and share.
(Left) Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt at night. (Right) Aurora Borealis seen from the ISS (via NASA on both)
The project idea came to Larson while working for a Canadian based space company, Macdonald, Dettweiler and Associates. Long story short: his boss didn’t like it, but Russian officials loved it. Shortly after, an agreement was made under the Russian government’s Roscosmos space program to send two cameras up to the ISS in exchange for the video data collected of the Russian landmass.
Unlike most of the video and imagery of Earth that is currently available, the International Space Station will be able to cover a much wider range of land than other satellites that orbit closer to the poles. A still camera will capture wide angle shots spanning roughly 27 miles with a resolution of 18 feet per pixel, while the high-res camera will sport a 3 feet per pixel resolution at 3.25 frames per second. The image quality will be similar to Google Earth - buildings, roads, and large groups of people will be visible. The 150 short videos to be captured everyday will be searchable according to location, and users will have the option to track when the ISS will be capturing video in their area.
Larson hopes that the project will help the entire world experience something similar to the astronaut overview effect. As the name “Urthecast” (you are the cast) suggests, we are all a part of this project: “Looking back at the stark beauty of our planet, you realize that we have been blessed with an incredible opportunity to make sure that we protect the earth for future generations to come, and what better way to do that than to help everyone on earth to be able to experience the beauty of earth...” With that sentiment, it is clear the true essence of Urthecast is its potential to profoundly impact and change an individual’s worldly perspective. At the very least, we will soon have something really cool to look. The cameras will be ready for launch in October and December of this year.