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Rory Kennedy’s ‘Above and Beyond’ goes to space to understand Earth

Rory Kennedy during the filming of her documentary.
Discovery Channel via AP
Rory Kennedy during the filming of her documentary.

Academy Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winning director Rory Kennedy’s new documentary, “Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow,” is as much of a celebration of space exploration as it is of Earth research. Kennedy’s film chronicles 60 years of NASA, from the vow that her uncle, President John F. Kennedy, made in 1961 to get an American on the moon within a decade, to current environmental studies and the climate tipping point the world is now facing.

While the film is all encompassing, Kennedy was particularly interested in Apollo 8, the first mission to orbit the moon, with astronauts Frank Borman, William Anders, and Jim Lovell on board. The mission in December 1968 also produced the first photograph from space that a human had taken of Earth, the now famous “Earthrise” photo by Anders.

“What they said during the course of the mission coming home was ‘we wanted to discover the moon and we discovered Earth’,” Kennedy said. “And I think that’s kind of a nice metaphor for how NASA has operated over these many years. They’ve had these missions that have gone outward, but those missions have helped us understand this planet.”

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In light of a recent warning from a United Nations panel, which stated that if strong actions against climate change aren’t taken right now, Earth will be irrevocably altered, Kennedy spoke of NASA’s important role in researching the planet. There are 19 satellites in space recording systems back on Earth, as well as aircraft and land-based workers confirming the data.

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“And then they take all of that data and they feed it to scientists who turn it into models, and those models are what’s foolproof and ironclad,” Kennedy said. “Those models are saying we’re on a train wreck and we need to do something about it.”

“Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow” premiered in theaters earlier this month and is now available for viewing on TV on Discovery and the Science Channel. Lillian Brown

Lillian Brown can be reached at lillian.brown@globe.com. Follow her on twitter @lilliangbrown.