Documentary channel

National Geographic’s ‘One Strange Rock’ goes to space to learn about the miracle of life on Earth

The 10-episode documentary series, executive produced by Darren Aronofsky, will be premiered on March 26.

“I’m going to tell you about the most incredible place,” says host Will Smith. “It might be the weirdest place in the whole universe...and you know what? You’re walking on it.”

So begins a riveting cinematic journey into the bedrock of human existence we all call home: Earth.

Like many documentaries before it, National Geographic’s One Strange Rock explores the wonders of the blue planet and how it has sustained itself and millions of species over billions of ears. But the 10-episode series takes this journey a giant leap ahead – it explores the inner workings of Earth from the perspective the few human beings who have ventured outside of it, astronauts.

From this vantage point, the show, co-produced by filmmaker Darren Aronofsky and media executive Jane Root, spans 45 countries and six continents to highlight lesser-known facts about the minute and interconnected phenomena that have made life possible on our planet. The series, produced by Nutopia and Protozoa Pictures for National Geographic, will be premiered on Monday at 9pm.

One Strange Rock.

The first episode, Gasp, hosted by Smith and astronaut Chris Hadfield, takes off from the most basic, universal and instinctive unit of existence – breathing.

The presence of oxygen is what makes Earth unique in its ability to host a wide variety of life. To understand how this vast repository of sustenance came into being, the episode takes viewers on a fascinating journey spanning Dallol in Ethiopia, Danakil in East Africa, the Amazon rain forest in Brazil and Svalbard in Norway, among other places. The camera aids this thrilling ride as it hovers above Earth one moment and plunges into the depths of the ocean the next.

This expansive voyage reveals that we all owe our existence to a microscopic organism: a diatom. These photosynthetic microalgae, present in almost all water bodies, are key to keeping the oxygen in circulation on the planet. It is because of these diatoms that a salt desert in Danakil has life-giving dust that fertilises plants in the Amazon, which in turn convert carbon dioxide to oxygen.

The series has been presented by Hadfield and features interviews with seven other astronauts: Jeff Hoffman, Mae Jemison, Jerry Linenger, Mike Massimino, Leland Melvin, Nicole Stott and Peggy Whitson.

Some of the best moments of the show come when these astronauts describe how life-giving phenomena are observed from outer space. They describe seeing the storms blowing dust from Africa to Brazil and the river of life flowing over the Amazon. Most fascinating is the revelation that the impact of diatoms, which cannot be seen by the naked eye, can be observed from space, in the form of a patch in the ocean that is a starkly different shade of blue-green.

One Strange Rock is a virtual as well as a cerebral delight. With the help of dexterous camerawork, the show offers viewers both a bird’s eye view of the workings of Earth and an intimate look of the granular details: we see the planet from the International Space Station thousands of miles away and zoom into microscopic phenomena, such as a flower blooming, a water droplet forming on a leaf and a speck of dust landing on the ground.

Through mind-boggling scientific facts, the show drives home a message that is decidedly spiritual: about the interconnectedness of every creature on Earth, about humankind’s place in it as just one aspect of a staggering chain, and about the perfect and delicate balance that makes our existence possible.

Actor Will Smith co-hosts One Strange Rock. Image credit: National Geographic.
Actor Will Smith co-hosts One Strange Rock. Image credit: National Geographic.
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What are racers made of?

Grit, strength and oodles of fearlessness.

Sportspersons are known for their superhuman discipline, single-minded determination and the will to overcome all obstacles. Biographies, films and documentaries have brought to the fore the behind-the-scenes reality of the sporting life. Being up at the crack of dawn, training without distraction, facing injuries with a brave face and recovering to fight for victory are scenes commonly associated with sportspersons.

Racers are no different. Behind their daredevilry lies the same history of dedication and discipline. Cornering on a sports bike or revving up sand dunes requires the utmost physical endurance, and racers invest heavily in it. It helps stave off fatigue and maintain alertness and reaction time. It also helps them get the most out of their racecraft - the entirety of a racer’s skill set, to which years of training are dedicated.

Racecraft begins with something as ‘simple’ as sitting on a racing bike; the correct stance is the key to control and manoeuvre the bike. Riding on a track – tarmac or dirt is a great deal different from riding on the streets. A momentary lapse of concentration can throw the rider into a career ending crash.

Physical skill and endurance apart, racers approach a race with the same analytical rigour as a student appearing in an exam. They conduct an extensive study of not just the track, but also everything around it - trees, marshal posts, tyre marks etc. It’s these reference points that help the racer make braking or turning decisions in the frenzy of a high-stakes competition.

The inevitability of a crash is a reality every racer lives with, and seeks to internalise this during their training. In the immediate aftermath of the crash, racers are trained to keep their eyes open to help the brain make crucial decisions to avoid collision with other racers or objects on the track. Racers that meet with accidents can be seen sliding across the track with their heads held up, in a bid to minimise injuries to the head.

But racecraft is, of course, only half the story. Racing as a profession continues to confound many, and racers have been traditionally misunderstood. Why would anyone want to pour their blood, sweat and tears into something so risky? Where do racers get the fearlessness to do laps at mind boggling speed or hurtle down a hill unassisted? What about the impact of high speeds on the body day after day, or the monotony of it all? Most importantly, why do racers race? The video below explores the question.


The video features racing champions from the stable of TVS Racing, the racing arm of TVS Motor Company, which recently completed 35 years of competitive racing in India. TVS Racing has competed in international rallies and races across some of the toughest terrains - Dakar, Desert Storm, India Baja, Merzouga Rally - and in innumerable national championships. Its design and engineering inputs over the years have also influenced TVS Motors’ fleet in India. You can read more about TVS Racing here.

This article has been produced by Scroll Brand Studio on behalf of TVS Racing and not by the Scroll editorial team.