One Strange Rock: Looking in on Earth from space

National Geographic’s 10-part documentary series on Planet Earth pulls no punches in its attempt to appeal to a wider audience and it very nearly succeeds.

by Nikhil Sreekandan

One Strange Rock is an exploration of the fragility and wonder of Planet Earth – from the perspective of eight astronauts who have spent over a 1000 days of space between them. Across ten hour-long episodes, these incredible astronauts tell us “how being up there helped them to truly understand what goes on down here.”

Narrated by Will Smith and produced by the award-winning team of filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (`Black Swan’, ‘Requiem for a Dream’) and producer Jane Root (`America the Story of Us’), the producers of the show have made sure that One Strange Rock will also appeal to an audience who aren’t necessarily the type to watch documentaries about nature.

© National Geographic/Nutopia

With stunning visuals from the International Space Station, panoramic ‘Planet Earth’-esque ariel shots and elaborate computer-generated sequences to explain theoretical concepts, juxtaposed between sound bytes from the elite group of astronauts and the charismatic Will Smith – One Strange Rock is engaging, entertaining and informing.

Each episode tackles a different topic and in doing so delves into monumental events like Genesis et al. and discusses questions such as the potential of life elsewhere. For example, in the first episode, the show tells the story of how the Earth creates and regulates its oxygen-rich atmosphere.

From a ‘flying river’ and a global dust storm to a collapsing glacier and the most important creature that you have never heard of – the amount of information that’s crammed into this one single hour is unreal.

Just like I lived my whole life in a semi-dark room and somebody flipped on the lights.

Will Smith might be the star name and he sure does his job of pulling in a crowd, but it is the elite assortment of eight astronauts who will warrant your eyeballs to be glued to your screens.

Chris Hadfield, Jeff Hoffman, Mae Jemison, Jerry Linenger, Mike Massimino, Leland Melvin, Nicole Stott, and Peggy Whitson have all had the chance to see our world in a way none of us has ever had – from outer space and looking down on this mote of dust in a sunbeam.

They share their experiences at the International Space Station and offer us insights from their time spent observing Earth from this truly unique vantage point.

© National Geographic/Nutopia

When you are telling the story of your very planet, you are bound to travel to places you haven’t even heard of; the producers of the show cut no corners here and have travelled to over 45 different countries during the filming of this 10-hour long epic. In the third episode alone, the narration takes you from the volcanic Mount Nyiragongo in Congo to the mountains of El Calafate in Argentina and then to the Xiaolangdi Dam in China.

What sets One Strange Rock apart from the other nature documentaries is its human element: how it tells its story through micro-stories of people who call this massive suspended rock in space ‘home’.

From climatologists and scientists in the remotest of locations to free divers and meteorite dealers, One Strange Rock takes you places and introduces you to cultures you never knew existed.

Asteroid impact crater viewed from space. © NASA

Ultimately, what the show teaches you is how everything is so connected and interlinked, how everything is in perfect balance and harmony, to allow life to exist, to allow Earth to be a fully life-sustaining ecosystem. Our existence is truly one of the wonders in the galaxy, if not, the universe.

If anything, after you are done watching One Strange Rock, you will gain a newfound respect for your home and hopefully this respect will transform into something more.

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