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An astronaut’s view of Earth, sponsored by Phillips 66

The two NASA astronauts who were the first to launch into space aboard a private rocket aren't the only ones with an awesome view of Earth right now.

A 23-foot sculpture of Earth, sponsored by Phillips 66 at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, was designed by artist Luke Jerram to bring the "overview effect" — the sense of awe experienced by astronauts upon viewing the planet from outer space — to us groundlings. The art exhibit debuted on May 15, just two weeks before a new era in space travel dawned with the launch of the SpaceX rocket.

"This exhibit is absolutely stunning and couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Phillips 66 Manager of Social Impact Claudia Kreisle. “We jumped at the opportunity to help bring it to Space City.”

Phillips 66 is the presenting sponsor of the “Gaia — Earth by Luke Jerram” exhibit at HMNS. The museum gets about 2 million guests every year and is known for its varied collections, including the Cockrell Butterfly Center, Wortham Giant Screen Theatre and Morian Hall of Paleontology.

It’s also home to the Wiess Energy Hall, which was built in acknowledgement of Houston as the world’s energy capital. Phillips 66 is a major donor; its Phillips 66 Downstream Hydrocarbon Processes and Products gallery shows visitors how energy manufacturing companies transform hydrocarbons into everyday products.

The Gaia exhibit, named for Greek mythology’s goddess of the Earth, measures 7 meters in diameter, or about 23 feet, which makes it about 1.8 million times smaller than the real Earth. It uses detailed NASA imagery and is lit from the inside to simulate what astronauts see from space.

It is the second exhibit of its kind to come to the HMNS. Jerram created the same type of installation artwork of the moon, which drew 776,607 visitors last year.

The Gaia exhibit, which will run until June 30, was originally meant to align with Earth Day in April. But the debut was moved to May 15 after the museum had to close its doors due to COVID-19.

"I couldn't have picked a better exhibit to open with,” Dr. Carolyn Sumners, the museum's vice president for astronomy and the physical sciences, told the Houston Chronicle. “It's refreshing to think of the world without boundaries, which is what the Earth is from space."