Following her uncle’s support of NASA’s space mission, Rory Kennedy’s Discovery Channel/Science Channel film Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey To Tomorrow depicts the modern focus of space travel as reporting back on the health of the Earth and finding out whether we’re alone in the universe.
“If you look at the next 20 to 30 years, it’s going to make everything we’ve done so far seem really small,” NASA Chief Scientist and consultant on the film Ellen Stofan said at TCA on Friday. “We’re on the verge of going to Mars to search potential for life and out to the moons of Saturn,” she said. “We’re getting ready to send humans to the moon and Mars after that, so fasten your seat belts.”
For Kennedy, there was a personal motivation in making and narrate the film. “I grew up with NASA. My uncle John F. Kennedy played an integral role in helping us to get to the moon,” she said. “I felt that now coming upon its 60th anniversary, there had been less attention for the accomplishments of NASA, and now that we had all these years behind us, we had the opportunity to look back and to revisit these extraordinary things NASA has done to help us understand who we are.”
Kennedy also said it’s important to understand how NASA is helping us to appreciate the preciousness of our planet and encourage us to protect our environment. “In making this film it was apparent to me that in their efforts to look out in to outer space, the further and further they got, the greater appreciation they have for planet Earth, and for the preciousness of this planet.”
More than ever, she added, we need perspective on the level of damage we’re causing to the planet. “There is a sense of renewed purpose and meaning to NASA,” she said. “There is a sense that this planet we live on is so unique and so precious and vulnerable, and we as humans are contributing to what is a very concerning trajectory. NASA is playing an integral role in helping us to understand that.”
Stofan said despite concerns, the current administration had not yet pulled funding from NASA’s Earth science project. “NASA has been very lucky to have very strong bipartisan support in congress,” she said. “We turn back to the Earth and say, ‘How can we understand how the Earth is changing? Obviously what we’re seeing, what’s changing, is very alarming, so there is concern over NASA’s earth science budget.”
Of course there’s also always the fascinating search for life in space. Adam Stelzner, NASA engineer, said he and many his colleagues believe there is certainly life outside our planet. “The mathematics are overwhelming,” he said, referring to the sheer number of other planets out there, including planets with water sources.
“Isn’t that so cool?” Kennedy said.