Astronaut Kjell Lindgren talks to WDRB about Jennifer Lawrence and 'A Beautiful Planet'
"I think we were all grateful that Jennifer narrated the movie," astronaut Kjell Lindgren said. "She was excited to get to meet us, and we were excited to get to meet her."
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- On Friday, April 29, some moviegoers will get a chance witness breathtaking views of Earth from space -- and they'll have the familiar voice of a famous Louisville native to guide them.
The new IMAX film "A Beautiful Planet" will open in select theaters, although none in the Louisville area have yet scheduled the film.
The movie is narrated by actress -- and Louisville native -- Jennifer Lawrence.
The film was shot by astronauts aboard the International Space Station, including American astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Barry "Butch" Wilmore, Terry Virts, and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.
"This movie is really about our home here in the solar system -- our beautiful planet, the Earth," astronaut Kjell Lindgren told WDRB News by phone. "So it really records and presents amazing views of the Earth during the day, in night, and then also a little bit about our life inside the space station."
For about 45 minutes, moviegoers will be provided an astronaut's-eye view of the planet Earth -- and the view, according to Lindgren, is incredible.
"Well, looking out the Cupula for the first time is one of those memories that I will never forget," Lindgren said. "The view of the Earth from that seven-bay window is just breathtaking. If you stick your head in that little bubble of a window and look out, you can see the entire face of the Earth – this beautiful blue gem, just really hanging in the dark, cold void of space. It really takes your breath away."
Lindgren said he also enjoyed the opportunity to be present at the movie premiere -- and to have his work narrated by talented actress Jennifer Lawrence, who also attended.
"I think we were all grateful that Jennifer narrated the movie," he said. "It was great to hear her kind of bring the audience through our experience. I got to meet her at the premiere...it was a unique experience to attend a movie premiere with a superstar like Jennifer Lawrence…she was excited to get to meet us, and we were excited to get to meet her."
To listen to the full interview, click on the video player above.
Below is a partial transcript of the interview between WDRB's Travis Kircher and astronaut Kjell Lindgren. The interview took place on April 21, 2016.
TRAVIS: What is "A Beautiful Planet?" Describe it. You’ve seen it. You’ve worked on it. What is this movie about?
KJELL: Well, this movie is really about our home here in the solar system – our beautiful planet, the Earth. So it really records and presents amazing views of the Earth during the day, in night, and then also a little bit about our life inside the space station.
TRAVIS: I know they’ve got the Cupula up there, which is the big window – kind of the fish-eye window that they have – that really gives you that panoramic view. What was it like the first time you got on board the space station and took a look out of that window?
KJELL: Well, looking out the Cupula for the first time is one of those memories that I will never forget. The view from the Earth from that seven-bay window is just breathtaking. If you stick your head in that little bubble of a window and look out, you can see the entire face of the Earth – this beautiful blue gem, just really hanging in the dark, cold void of space. It really takes your breath away.
TRAVIS: Obviously each astronaut’s term of service up there is different. Each one sees different things during the six-month period they’re there. You might see hurricanes, you might see different weather formations and what-not. Can you talk about maybe some of the things specifically that you saw during your six months there that kind of was unique to your experience?
KJELL: Sure. Well, you know, I think it is one of the most notable experiences of getting to fly in space: that opportunity to look back at the Earth. Even if you fly over the same spot over and over, the view is always changing. The weather, the lighting, the seasons are changing, and so the view is always different, always beautiful. So I enjoyed all aspects of looking at the Earth, whether it was during the daytime – you see the absolutely beautiful colors of the different continents, the personalities of the different continents and oceans.
And then at night, it’s completely different. The colors fade, and then the population centers just leap into view as all of the lights from the different cities spanning the continents glitter in the night.
On top of that palette of color and light, you see the changing weather systems. So in the Pacific and Atlantic, you see typhoons and hurricanes – and those are also beautiful, but you also recognize the tremendous violence contained in those swirls of clouds. And so it’s amazing to have that perspective – to look down at the Earth and just see it in all of those different views.
The think that really resonated with me – and I recall it vividly – is one time floating down the Cupula when it was night outside and seeing the Aurora. And not just off on the horizon, but just a sea of neon green and purple and red swirling and undulating below me. We were flying through it and it’s the only time during that entire expedition that I got goosebumps. Absolutely unbelievable.
TRAVIS: You also did an EVA, is that right?
KJELL: That’s right. So, I did two spacewalks during my mission. Both of them were with Scott Kelly, and those were a highlight of my mission. We trained for hundreds of hours in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory – our 6 million-gallon pool here at Johnson Space Center, practicing, learning how to use the spacesuit, how to use the tools, how to move around efficiently and safely. And so it was a professional highlight to put that training to use and actually do a real spacewalk.
And then the experience of the spacewalk: going outside in what is essentially a miniature spacecraft in our EMU – or Extravehicular Mobility Unit – was really…it was something that I’ll never forget. It’s probably the hardest thing, physically or mentally, that I’ve ever done, but also among the most rewarding – to have gone outside, to be successful at our work and then to get back inside safely. An absolutely amazing experience.
TRAVIS: Is there something different about the view when you do an EVA than when you’re looking out the Cupula – or is it the same?
KJELL: I think that the view is different. There’s an order of magnitude different when you see a picture of the Earth, and when you’re in space and you look down from the Cupula. And then I think it’s an additional order of magnitude more amazing when you’re looking at it through the visor of a spacesuit, as compared to looking at it through a window of the space station.
I think that it’s a clearer view, for one, and then it occupies your entire field of view – your entire field of a vision. So that view of the Earth, that view of outside of the space station, is incredibly clear, and it occupies your whole field of view. It is spectacular.
TRAVIS: This is a question I’ve always had: Are you able to see stars better when you’re outside the space station doing an EVA? Are you able to see more of them, or is it pretty much the same?
KJELL: Well, it’s interesting, because, when it’s bright – just as it is on Earth, when it’s bright outside, your pupils close down to manage that amount of light, and it makes it hard to see fainter objects, like stars. The same thing occurs in space, so when we’re in daytime, it can be difficult to see the stars because the Earth is so bright, and the space station is so bright.
But both on the space station and in the space suit, when it’s nighttime – especially when it’s moonless – you can see the stars, and it’s beautiful.
But we only benefit from the fact that we’re above the atmosphere, so that improves our view some. We’re only 250 miles above the Earth, so we’re not all that much closer to the Moon or the planets. Many kids ask if we can see the planets or the Moon much closer. So we’re not that much closer, but the view is much clearer.
But I would say that I’ve had comparable views when I’ve been away from cities, deep in the mountains of Colorado, looking up at the sky. It’s almost a comparable view when you can see the faint structure of the Milky Way and millions and billions of stars in your field of view.
TRAVIS: You’ve got kind of a unique perspective. You’ve got the medical background. Could you maybe talk about some of the changes that you noticed in Scott [Kelly] when he was up there, and maybe what it was like for you when you got back down. I know, obviously, being up there six months, you have to do a lot of exercise. And the Earth’s gravity – I guess gravity can be a drag when you get back.
KJELL: Absolutely. I was a biology pre-med major in college, and even back then, I had an interest in the effects of weightlessness – of living in that microgravity environment – and what it did to the human body. And so it was really a profound experience to get to fly into space and to get to experience weightlessness from that first-person perspective.
Weightlessness is actually very hard on the human body. You can compare it a little bit to…I spent 141 days in space. It would be somewhat similar to laying in bed for 141 days. In fact, we use a bedrest model to study some of the effects of weightlessness on subjects here on the Earth. We lose bone mass because we’re not constantly fighting against gravity and moving our bones – our skeleton – against the force of gravity. We lose muscle strength, again, because we’re not moving around under the strain of gravity. And in the absence of exercise, we would also – our cardiovascular systems – we would lose aerobic capacity as our cardiovascular systems become deconditioned.
So we have a suite of countermeasures – of exercises – that we do in space to combat those changes, so that we are healthy when we return to the Earth. Those countermeasures include resistive exercises – weightlifting – on a device called the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (the ARED), which uses evacuated cylinders to provide resistance: up to 600 pounds of resistance for exercises like squats and deadlifts, core exercises that load up the load-bearing joints and bones so that we are in good shape when we return to the Earth. That resistance exercise also provides conditioning to our muscles to maintain muscle strength.
And then we have two countermeasures – two exercises that we use to maintain our aerobic capacity. We have a treadmill – we wear a harness that straps us down to the treadmill to keep us in place as we run – and then an exercises bike called the cycle ergometer. Those two aerobic exercises do a great job keeping us aerobically fit.
While I was up there, Scott [Kelly] looked like he was in great shape. He did a great job maintaining his exercise, and of course he’s had significant experience being in space, and so is a veteran at maintaining his health during these long-duration missions.
I did the exercise protocols as well – we all do – and when I returned to the Earth, in general, I was in pretty good shape. But it takes a while to get used to being back in gravity, to regain your balance. That may be over the course of a week or two – my balance felt like it was back to normal. It takes a while for your body to get used to moving around, so I think a lot of us come back with leg pain and low back pain as we acclimate to being pulled down to the Earth by the force of gravity.
So for myself, after about 30 days, I felt like I was just about at 100 percent.
TRAVIS: Having been in Zero-G – or at least microgravity – for that length of time, and you get back and you’re used to stuff just floating, did you ever have a point where you get back and maybe you dropped a plate, or you dropped a pencil or something thinking, ‘I can just lay it up here in the air’ and, nope, it crashes back down?
KJELL: You know, you hear stories about that. I actually thought those stories were more jokes than anything, but I did talk with a couple of my colleagues who had flown previously, and they encountered the situation where they had been drinking a cup of coffee and someone asked them a question, and they just let their coffee float, and then turned back – and of course the mug is shattered on the ground.
So that has actually happened, where spouses have not allowed their recently returning astronaut to use – they have to use plastic plates and cups for the first couple of weeks, so they don’t break all of the tablewear.
I did not have that problem. I’m not sure if that’s a long-duration vs. short-duration issue, because I never let anything just float around. Unless I was intentionally goofing around with something, making it spin around. When you’re on the space station, you just don’t let stuff float because, if you do, it disappears. It floats away. So anytime that I was done using something, I’d always attach it to Velcro, tape, or tuck it under a bungee, because if you don’t purposefully put it somewhere, it’s going to disappear.
TRAVIS: One thing I’ve always wondered…obviously, our meteorologists always let us know about the International Space Station sighting opportunities. And it’s one thing for someone like me…to go outside and see the space station pass over, as I have dozens of times.
But for someone like you, who has been up there, who maybe just got back, and you’re seeing it up there just a few weeks later – a few days later – what runs through your mind when you see it? Because I’m sure you have a much different perspective. Do you kind of get homesick for that…does a part of you wish you were back up there?
KJELL: It is a bittersweet thing to leave the space station. It is an absolute miracle of engineering that, with our international partners, we have been able to develop this miracle in low Earth orbit – and sustained life in it for 15 years. It’s really a testament to what we are able to do when we cooperate as nations in peaceful means. So it’s a bittersweet thing to leave that place because it is such a special place to live and work. But of course at the end of our missions, we’re eager to see our friends and families again.
After I got home, and I see the station pass overhead, it’s a neat thing. It’s a neat thing to look up there and to know that you have friends up there – to know what it is they’re doing, what their days are like. And certainly there have been times when I’ve been a little homesick for being up there, because it’s just a really special place to live and work. It’s a place that tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of people have worked on, and given millions of hours to build. And only a very few people actually get to see the real thing flying in space. So that is a tremendous privilege to be in that group that has gotten to live and work up there, but even a greater privilege to work with all the people who are involved in human spaceflight around the world: in Mission Control that helps us on a daily basis, or to have been a part of the group that trained us up to prepare us to execute a safe and successful mission.
TRAVIS: Talk for a minute, if you could, about using the IMAX cameras. Was there a learning curve for that? And how did you feel knowing that you were being, in a sense, a producer, director and photographer?
KJELL: Right! That was an amazing experience. You know, I grew up watching the space IMAX movies, and they definitely played a role to shape my desire to fly in space someday. So the opportunity to fly in space, of course, is an absolute dream control, but then, to be a part of an IMAX film during our expedition, to be a cameraman and to fill all of the roles that you just identified is just like icing on top. What an incredible opportunity to be a part of a project like this, that shares our experience, visually, with everyone back here on Earth. It was a dream come true to be a part of a project like this for sure.
TRAVIS: What was the night of the premiere like – and was that the first time you guys had seen the movie?
KJELL: So the premiere – that was kind of a crazy event. I had never been a part of anything like that before, and I had not seen the movie before, so it was fun to get to meet a lot of the people that were involved in the movie. We shot the movie from space, but knew that there was a lot of work going into sound, and soundtrack, and editing , and doing the 3D processing – so to get to meet some of the people that were a part of that was fantastic.
And to get to see the movie. You know, I had the opportunity to see the movie – to screen the movie – before the premiere, but I actually elected to wait and watch the movie with the audience, just to get to experience it with the large group of folks that were in there.
So that was an amazing thing: to get to see our work, and then also to see those views again on the big screen.
TRAVIS: When you saw your work on the big screen, were you able to sit there and say, ‘Oh, that’s my shot! That’s my shot there! I did that one.’?”
KJELL: Yeah, there were certainly shots in there that I recognized that I’d taken. So that’s a gratifying experience to have invested the amount of work that we did in filming this movie – and then to see it in the final product.
TRAVIS: What was the soundtrack like – the music?
KJELL: The soundtrack was beautiful. I think seeing it in the theater really drives home how important sound is to a movie like that. When we’re shooting the movie – especially the external shots – and then trying to get some sense of what they look like as we play it back on the back of a computer or on a laptop, it’s beautiful to be sure. But to see it on a big screen with music that almost gives you cues on the emotional trajectory of the movie – absolutely amazing.
TRAVIS: Did it make you feel like you were back in the space station?
KJELL: It did. There were definitely shots in the movie that made me feel like I was back in space.
TRAVIS: Obviously with Jennifer Lawrence being a Louisville native, I have to ask you about her. She was the narrator in the film. I saw some pictures with a lot of you guys with her. What was it like working with her, and could you discuss some of the things that she talked about?
KJELL: Sure. I think we were all grateful that Jennifer narrated the movie. It was great to hear her kind of bring the audience through our experience. I got to meet her at the premiere. We didn’t actually get to work together. I think that her narration was added kind of in the post-production phase, but it was a unique experience to attend a movie premiere with a superstar like Jennifer Lawrence…she was excited to get to meet us, and we were excited to get to meet her. It was a lot of fun to see her at the premiere.
TRAVIS: For viewers who are hearing this who are going to be thinking about going to the movie, what will they see? What are some reasons for them to go and to see this movie? What makes it stand out from other space movies?
KJELL: Well, I think that all of the space movies have really built on previous experience. The astronauts who filmed this movie were trained by Tony Myers, James Neihouse, Greg Smith and Marsha Ivins who received all of their insights and experience from their previous movies. So I like to think that the movies just get better and better. You know, it is a profound experience and a real privilege to fly in space and get to see the Earth…so this is really an opportunity to see the Earth from our eyes – from our perspective on the International Space Station. And I think we’re all eager to share that experience – to share that perspective – and very grateful to get to do it through an IMAX movie.
TRAVIS: Alright, Kjell Lindgren, thank you very much for doing this for us – and we’ll look forward to seeing the movie.
KJELL: Awesome. Thank you so much for your time today, Travis.
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