'There's all this human activity that's occurring on our planet, and unlike your typical day-to-day experience where you're very isolated in what you see or what you do, when you see this continually over a span of months, it definitely gives you a feeling of how integrated and connected we are.'
As he circles the earth from way out yonder, astronaut Tim Kopra has also been shooting images of the cities the band have been travelling to on the #U2eiTour. Cathleen Falsani spoke to him for U2.com.
U.S. Astronaut Tim Kopra, a U2 fan since the early 1980s, might have the best how-I-met-Bono story I've ever heard. It's 2009 and Kopra is in the middle of his two-hour daily workout routine, riding on a stationary bike in the gym of the International Space Station as it orbits 200 miles above planet Earth.
'I heard this familiar voice over the space-to-ground radio,' Kopra recalled in an interview earlier this month from his home in Houston, Texas. 'So, I floated over to the Japanese lab and [then-commander of the ISS] Frank De Winne was having a conversation with Bono on the privatized space-to-ground radio.'
At the time, De Winne, a Belgian astronaut, was collaborating with the band on videos for the U2360° tour that were taped aboard the ISS where, among other things, he recited lyrics from 'Your Blue Room' and 'In A Little While'.
'I ended up having about a 30-minute conversation with Bono on board the space station, which was completely surreal, and one of the highlights of the mission, actually,' Kopra said. 'I had been a fan since I was 16 or 17 years old—so along with walking in space, being able to talk with one of your musical heroes while you're on board the space station, are two huge highlights….During our conversation, Bono asked me what my wife's name was and I said, 'Dawn, like the sunrise.'
The singer liked the poetic sound of that, asked the astronaut to record his words, and subsequently played the recording during shows on the U2360° tour. Kopra missed the U2360°shows in 2009 because he was, well, out of town, but his wife got to experience the grand romantic gesture in concert.
The iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour is Kopra's second collaboration with the band. The astronaut has provided images of each city taken aboard the space station that appear on the barricage during 'Lights of Home'. Kopra shot many of the photos used during the show, while others come from NASA's vast repository of images of Earth taken from the ISS, he said.
The idea to incorporate space station images of Earth during U2's live shows originated in an email exchange with Willie Williams in 2016 during Kopra's second space station mission.
'Willie was staying at a friend's house on the island of Mustique in the Caribbean and sent me a photo that said 'Hey, here's what my back porch view looks like,' he recalled. 'So, then I sent him a photo of what Mustique looked like from the space station.'
Kopra mentioned to Williams that one of his favorite things to do on board the space station was taking photos of cities of night on Earth before his bedtime each day. Taking extreme-long-distance photographs while orbiting the planet once every 90 minutes at a speed of five miles per second takes some skill and a lot of practice, but when you get it right, the results are pretty stunning.
'You can see very fine definition. All the roads, in fact. In some of the roads—all these strands of light—you can see little pinpoints of light that are the headlights of cars,' Kopra said, adding that the vantage point of the ISS offers a perspective of life on Earth few ever see firsthand.
'The ways that we're interconnected—you see the cities at night, with the little strands of light that connect. You can pick out the contrails of the airplanes that are crossing over the planet. If you look at the Suez or Panama Canal, you can see the ships going through,' he said. 'There's all this human activity that's occurring on our planet, and unlike your typical day-to-day experience where you're very isolated in what you see or what you do, when you see this continually over a span of months, it definitely gives you a feeling of how integrated and connected we are.'
Perhaps that unique perspective has fueled the band's fascination with space travel over the years, from Zooropa's iconic 'astrobaby' logo with its ring of stars to Commander Mark Kelly sending his wife Gabby Giffords a message from the ISS during U2360° by invoking a line from David Bowie's 'Space Oddity': 'Tell my wife I love her very much … she knows.'
'There's one very strong visceral impact you get from looking down upon the earth and not being on it: that all we have is what we have, and that unlike the science fiction movies that make it look like it's so easy to travel beyond our Earth to the next planet, it's not that way. Everything is separated by huge distances, vast distances,' Kopra said. 'My guess is that Bono, who is a global thinker, has some respect for those who've been able to have a more global perspective as well.'