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On this Earth Day, let us consider the iconic view of our planet from space. Not until the mid-20th century did humans lay eyes on such a thing. Prior to that moment, we may be forgiven for thinking in our naivety that the sea is unimaginably vast, the sky endlessly pure and our natural resources incapable of running out. But once we got that first image of the earth as a tiny sphere of blue, brown, green and white, surrounded by … nothingness … that changed everything.

Those few, privileged persons who have seen the sight with their own eyes have trouble expressing how it has affected them:

  • Ed White at the end of his first spacewalk above the earth: “I’m coming back in; it’s the saddest moment of my life.”
  • Alan Shepard, 1971: “When I first looked back at the Earth, standing on the Moon, I cried.”
  • Neil Armstrong, 1969: “I felt very, very small.”
  • Sandra Magnus, 2017: “When you look out the window, you notice how incredibly thin our atmosphere is, how such a fragile shell of air we have that surrounds our planet and makes it habitable, you can read that in a book, but until you see, it doesn’t strike home.”
  • A Russian cosmonaut: “It’s so beautiful. You should have sent a poet, not a pilot.”

Astronaut Sandra Magnus, who just returned to Earth from the International Space Station a few weeks ago, said that when a person gazes at the Earth, there is a sense that humanity and all life as we know it are completely dependent on a single planet and its thin atmosphere. “It looks very fragile from here, and it’s very easy to take it for granted when we’re living on it, when it seems so big and so massive. But it’s not. It’s very small and very fragile. It makes you think about our planet as a whole system. We’re all there living together as human beings and other organisms and we have to take care of each other.”

Astronaut Michael Barratt said the impact of seeing Earth far below the International Space Station had an impact on him. “There’s no doubt that when you look down at the Earth from here, you’re just overwhelmed by how beautiful it is.” He said two things immediately jump out: “One is how much you miss it; and two is how much you really want to take care of it as best you can.” This spec of rocky matter sustains all the life we know; all of it – every living thing, every birth and death, every thinking mind, every love affair, every hero and villain, every civilization we know anything about has been right here.

Let us see the Earth anew, as if we are travellers across the universe, explorers from beyond the cosmic expanse. There are a hundred billion galaxies and a billion trillion stars throughout our known universe, yet here on this blue and cloudy world, protected from the void by a thin and delicate atmosphere of nitrogen and oxygen, we are home. We are warmed by gentle sunshine, provided by a fairly average star 93 million miles away. Our feet stand on terra firma, as we grasp fruit from a tree whose roots find nutrients in the soil of the Good Earth.

The Earth goes on, so far, providing our needs, keeping blue, green and white, sustaining us. We stand in awe of the Earth; she is everything to us. Happy Earth Day 2017; and many more.

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