Install Theme
The Satellite


The Satellite is an experiential, photo-realistic portrait of Earth, seamlessly combining real-time imagery and remote sensing data from hundreds of satellites to present viewers with a true, three-dimensional vision of their planet from the perspective of the International Space Station.

In 1968, the astronauts on board Apollo 8 experienced a profound emotional transformation upon seeing their home on the lunar horizon. Since then, many traveling astronauts report similar internal shifts: some are struck by the fragility of the atmosphere and ecosystem; others sense social boundaries and conflicts dropping away to reveal a feeling of unity; others grasp human existence in philosophical terms.

These extraordinary feelings are vitally important to a greater understanding of ourselves and Earth, but only a tiny cluster of researchers and scientists have access to them. The Satellite will offer this arresting experience to the general public, opening up an unlimited discourse around the planet’s past, present and future. 

The first photographic glimpse of the Earth occurred only sixty-eight years ago, in 1946, after World War Two had ended. A V-2 rocket, launched from White Sands Missile Range, took a simple black and white image from a height of 65 miles. Twenty years later, NASA’s Gemini 11––complete with crew––produced the first color photograph of the Earth at over ten times the distance. In 1968, Apollo 8 snapped “Earthrise,” the first whole Earth image, as they approached the moon. In 1990 came NASA’s “Pale Blue Dot,” a photograph taken in deep space.  These three images revolutionized the perception of our planet in both the scientific and public spheres, harmonizing the layperson and scientist’s natural curiosity and awe with unprecedented simplicity. Despite their impact, these images are not tools — such as Google Maps — or experiences. The ability for anyone other than an astronaut to see the planet in the mind’s eye is limited to a still photograph on a flat surface. The Satellite taps into the vast, un-curated resource of intelligent live information, leveraging it with the emotional impact of cinematic imagery to create an extraordinarily detailed and nuanced representation of Earth.


Until 1968, the closest understanding of the planet was a desktop globe, or a Mercator projection; in the context of the solar system and the universe, cartography and mapmaking remained subjective endeavors carried out by a human hand. All of this changed forever on that first mission by Apollo 8: “Earthrise,” the first image of the earth from space, is perhaps the most important photograph ever taken. It also represents a pivotal point in the development of environmental awareness. Nowadays, digital cartography presents purely machine-readable data and translates it, literally, for the human eye. How we choose to use and see these results elevates mapmaking to a curatorial and interpretive act. Higher resolution images and different perspectives of the planet continue to be published regularly in international publications: the most recent on June 19, 2013 from the Cassini aircraft, positioned 898 million miles from Earth. These groundbreaking advancements receive scientific recognition, but their impact no longer invites mass attention, despite increasingly sophisticated media channels in which to showcase them. And throughout history, writers, religious figures, and artists have long fantasized about Earth in the larger contexts of space and existence, predicting emotional and political reactions. Writers Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe; explorers Ferdinand Magellan, Lewis and Clark, and Ernest Shackleton; scientist Carl Sagan; artists Doug Aitken with Altered Earth, and in a wider sense, Olafur Eliasson with The Weather Project, and James Turrell with Roden Crater. In popular culture, cinema has provided deeper sensorial experiences for pure entertainment value, beginning with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey, Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, and most recently, with Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity and Lars von Trier’s Melancholia; in documentary, there is Planetary Collective’s Overview, the March 2014 update of the 1980 Cosmos series, formerly narrated by Carl Sagan and now by Neil de Grasse Tyson; and NASA’s time-lapse videos from the International Space Station; and in gaming, SimCity, where players wield control over the entire planet, including the atmosphere and living beings, over billions of years. Google Earth, while static and immediately out of date, have widened a more realistic perspective. But none of these have provided a three-dimensional, sensate experience that The Satellite aims for.

A key element to this endeavor is accessibility, participation, and a diminished sense of authorship. The Satellite has evolved from over a decade of collaboration in our careers as educators in the architectural, design, and technology fields––skills we have acquired and continue to develop due to innate personal curiosity, artistic sensibility, and a deep interest in community and environmental awareness. These combined factors have created The Satellite as a public project, rather than as an artwork, to discover different perspectives and prompt a new chapter of public discourse about our home, planet Earth.


Earthrise by Robert Poole
Overview Film by Planetary Collective
Overview Institute
View from ISS with narration