How you see the world when you see it from space

June 6, 2012 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog, Nature

I came across some quotes from astronauts who had seen the Earth from space that increased my sense of the beauty and fragility of life here — as far as we know, the only life at all.

The quotes surprised me partly because I think of astronauts as cowboy- and engineer-types. That surprise strengthened the feeling of the quotes, because you don’t expect cowboy engineers to promote protecting the environment, look for the beauty of nature, or talk about peace on earth among different cultures. Or at least I didn’t.

Everybody knows “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” “The eagle has landed,” and “Houston, we have a problem.”

I think you’ll enjoy these, especially if you haven’t heard them before.

It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.
Neil Armstrong, USA

Suddenly, from behind the rim of the moon, in long, slow-motion moments of immense majesty, there emerges a sparkling blue and white jewel, a light, delicate sky-blue sphere laced with slowly swirling veils of white, rising gradually like a small pearl in a thick sea of black mystery. It takes more than a moment to fully realize this is Earth . . . home.
– Edgar Mitchell, USA

For those who have seen the Earth from space, and for the hundreds and perhaps thousands more who will, the experience most certainly changes your perspective. The things that we share in our world are far more valuable than those which divide us.
– Donald Williams, USA

Looking outward to the blackness of space, sprinkled with the glory of a universe of lights, I saw majesty – but no welcome. Below was a welcoming planet. There, contained in the thin, moving, incredibly fragile shell of the biosphere is everything that is dear to you, all the human drama and comedy. That’s where life is; that’s were all the good stuff is.
– Loren Acton, USA

The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone, our home that must be defended like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word round meant until I saw Earth from space.
– Aleksei Leonov, USSR

The sun truly “comes up like thunder,” and it sets just as fast. Each sunrise and sunset lasts only a few seconds. But in that time you see at least eight different bands of color come and go, from a brilliant red to the brightest and deepest blue. And you see sixteen sunrises and sixteen sunsets every day you’re in space. No sunrise or sunset is ever the same.
– Joseph Allen, USA

The Earth reminded us of a Christmas tree ornament hanging in the blackness of space. As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of God and the love of God.
– James Irwin, USA

My first view – a panorama of brilliant deep blue ocean, shot with shades of green and gray and white – was of atolls and clouds. Close to the window I could see that this Pacific scene in motion was rimmed by the great curved limb of the Earth. It had a thin halo of blue held close, and beyond, black space. I held my breath, but something was missing – I felt strangely unfulfilled. Here was a tremendous visual spectacle, but viewed in silence. There was no grand musical accompaniment; no triumphant, inspired sonata or symphony. Each one of us must write the music of this sphere for ourselves.
– Charles Walker, USA

For the first time in my life I saw the horizon as a curved line. It was accentuated by a thin seam of dark blue light – our atmosphere. Obviously this was not the ocean of air I had been told it was so many times in my life. I was terrified by its fragile appearance.
– Ulf Merbold, Federal Republic of Germany

A Chinese tale tells of some men sent to harm a young girl who, upon seeing her beauty, become her protectors rather than her violators. That’s how I felt seeing the Earth for the first time. “I could not help but love and cherish her.
– Taylor Wang, China/USA

My view of our planet was a glimpse of divinity.
– Edgar Mitchell, USA

Personally, I find these words as meaningful as pictures of Earth from space, as beautiful as they are, and as much as pictures may be worth a thousand words — maybe because we’ve seen pictures of Earth from space so many times.


As beautiful and fragile as the Earth appears today from space, those views will only become more common, whether we travel to space more or less. I don’t think the view itself influenced the astronauts’ perception so much as seeing it for the first time that way.

I fear that if people started traveling to space all the time, I suspect we would grow inured to the view. Maybe we’d see beauty in it, but not like these astronauts did. At one time heavier-than-air machines flying blew people’s minds. So did talking over a telephone. Now we get annoyed when our flights land ten minutes late and we complain if our phone drops a call.

I don’t propose not sending cameras to space. On the contrary, I propose learning to see the beauty in nature, the fragility of life, and all the other perspectives the astronauts expressed in every thing you say, see, and do. If seeing the Earth from space can seem as ordinary and common as drinking a glass of water or breathing air, then so can every breath of air or glass of water reveal the majesty, beauty, fragility, and everything else the astronauts expressed.

Also, if you liked these quotes, you’ll enjoy watching Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot.

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