Thursday, November 30, 2023

Bella Gaia education project funded by NASA brings immersive digital dome show about earth science to classrooms and science centers

Bella Gaia image provided by Christie Communications

(Syracuse, NY) – NASA has awarded a half a million dollars to a new 3-year science education project called Beautiful Earth, which uses the space flight simulation performance “BELLA GAIA” combined with Earth science, Native American storytelling, data visualizations, and music to engage youth in Earth science with the first multidisciplinary program of its type. This revolutionary educational model will celebrate its national launch at the MOST Science Museum in Syracuse, New York.

Beautiful Earth connects students with a profoundly global perspective of Earth as seen through the eyes of Astronauts. By successfully simulating space flight and the transformative “Overview Effect” that Astronauts experience, and integrating emerging scientific data from NASA scientists with the shared knowledge and wisdom of Native American educators, audiences are rapt by the feeling of being in space. By engaging students and the public emotionally and cognitively, Beautiful Earth aims to attract students to the rigorous study of Science, Technology, and Engineering and Mathematics disciplines and to encourage people to be effective stewards of the Earth for decades to come.

Valerie Casasanto, Principal Investigator of Beautiful Earth and education specialist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, says, “Beautiful Earth helps viewers to observe the interconnectedness of everything on Earth in fundamentally new ways. It educates audiences about how human activities are influencing global processes and motivates them to think about what actions need to be taken to support a healthy environment.”

Beautiful Earth was awarded the grant through NASA’s Science Mission Directorate Competitive Opportunities in Education and Public Outreach for Earth and Space Science (EPOESS) Program and is a partnership between NASA, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), Remedy Arts/BELLA GAIA, and five partner science centers. Native Earth Ways and Spaceship Earth Scientist will be the first two modules in a series of three “Beautiful Earth” experiences.

Beautiful Earth’s collaboration with NASA, BELLA GAIA and other partners delivers a new immersion into the education experience that integrates art, science, and Native American wisdom to create a moving emotional and cognitive connection between the viewer and our planet Earth. It was designed to encourage youth to become “connected”, responsible stewards of the Earth and is an outgrowth of Kenji Williams’ acclaimed BELLA GAIA Living Atlas Experience performed across the globe since 2008, connecting youth and the public to the grandeur of the planet and inspiring a deeper interest in Earth and Space science.
The NASA approved project will be delivered to youth and the public in live presentations in planetariums, through in-person workshops at science centers across the United States, and broadcast on television and online. Students will interact with prominent NASA scientists and Native American educators to gain access to new tools that will increase their scientific literacy in relation to Earth science.

The Beautiful Earth program includes:

  • A live musical performance of BELLA GAIA by Kenji Williams with video of orbiting visualizations of Earth from space, and customized data visualizations specific to the local region of the particular museum.
  • Hands-on interactive education workshops for local students and community members.
  • Data from current NASA missions, such as the recently launched Aquarius to study salinity of the oceans, a critical factor in global climate processes.

Valerie Casasanto explains that “By integrating art with science, a much bigger education goal can be achieved, especially when you bring in specialists to explain the data that scientists are gathering about Earth systems like forest fires, sea surface temperatures and polar ice. Combining imagery, music and science is a powerful tool for educators to help students become inspired and to achieve absorption. The program will also introduce further NASA opportunities such as student internships, engagement in NASA missions, and citizen science.”

About Beautiful Earth
Beautiful Earth: Experiencing and Learning Science in a New Way (Beautiful Earth), based on Kenji Williams’ BELLA GAIA audio-visual experience, is a unique education program and partnership between NASA, the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), Remedy Arts/BELLA GAIA (, and five partner science centers across the United States (The first partner is the MOST Museum in Syracuse, New York ( with the participation of the Onandaga Nation School ( The program builds and expands upon 14 successful events test-piloted with NASA, including the Digital Learning Network (DLN) Earth Day Events in 2009 and 2010 (

The Beautiful Earth project originated from the collaborative work of director and composer, Kenji Williams, UMBC/NASA education specialist Valerie Casasanto, and Native American Studies scholar and educator, Ronan Hallowell. Other core team members include Dr. Ana Prados, an atmospheric chemist at NASA Goddard/UMBC; James Rock, a Dakota science teacher and cultural educator from Minnesota; and Dr. Thorsten Markus, Head of the Cryospheric Sciences Branch at NASA Goddard and Project Scientist of upcoming ICESat-2 satellite mission. Beautiful Earth presents BELLA GAIA in a new forum that provides a deeper learning experience for K-12 students by combining the live experience with workshops by top NASA scientists, data visualizers, and Native American scientists and educators. Beautiful Earth translates Earth science into the media languages of the 21st century by using the BELLA GAIA experience to engage students in a way that seamlessly synthesizes science, art and education.

Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin ([email protected]) is a leading journalist, content marketing specialist and connector in the international attractions industry. She reports on design and technical design, production and project management, industry trends and company culture. From 2005-2020 she ran communications and publications for the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). In 2013, she was honored with the TEA Service Award. She was development director of IMERSA and publicist for the Large Format Cinema Association, and has contributed to the publications of PLASA, IAAPA and the International Planetarium Society. Judith joined World’s Fair magazine in 1987, which introduced her to the attractions industry. She joined InPark in 2010. Judith earned a BFA from Pratt Institute. She has lived in Detroit, New York, Oakland, and now Saint Louis, where she is active in the local arts community.

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