Humanizing satellite imagery


We are exposed to satellite imagery every day, from navigating GoogleMaps to gazing at an aerial landscape screensaver on our computer screen. We see the world from above through an airplane window and a weather report on the news. Satellite imagery is integrated into our everyday experience, shaping our perception of the globe — do we take it for granted?


The first satellite images taken from space were photographed on the sub-orbital V-2 rocket launched by the U.S. on October 24, 1946. For the first time, we could look outside of ourselves, humbled by the vastness of the connected world. Since then, satellite imagery infiltrated all facets of our culture, from media to navigation. We transitioned to mapping, documenting, and imaging Earth from space very quickly – it is a part of our recent history.

Yet, somehow the aerial perspective became commonplace: bird’s-eye view became our view, our lens. Perhaps novelty of such imagery dwindled as flight travel increased in the 1950’s, making aerial views familiar to us. Maybe widespread use of satellite imagery made us less sensitive to it. Or, what if we lost touch with the wonder of satellite photos when we interacted with them daily on our phones, after Google Earth launched in 2001 and Street View in 2005. With so much exposure to aerial footage (in a short time), did we numb our senses?

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“We are built, life is built, and organized in rhythms of system’s relationships.”

— Á.Delgado

Let us not forget the awe of an aerial view. This is our chance to be global travelers and astronauts from the ground. Let us place meaning back into these seemingly distant places. We can utilize the data, daily satellite imagery, and plane flights to marvel at Earth’s beauty and reflect on our role within a greater context. If we awaken our senses again, we can discover social responsibility and profound meaning from this high vantage point: here we see ourselves, our actions, our impact, our future


 Anytime I fly on a plane, I must claim a window seat, or settle for a middle seat if need-be. Observing from the sky is an opportunity to see the design of the world. Usually I snap photos, pressing my face against the window to see as much and as far as possible. Now more than ever, however, I notice how few people look out the window. Even worse, some travelers close the window shade!

As Forest Stearns, Director of Planet’s Art Residency would say, we need to “stay hungry,” remaining curious about the world we inhabit. After conversations with Robbert Simmons, Senior Visualization Engineer at Planet and former Lead Visualizer at NASA Earth Observatory, he acknowledged that we need to “humanize satellite imagery,” making it comprehendible and relatable to our lives again.

I want to use art to reintroduce satellite imagery in an empathetic, human way. This is where art and science collide!