Space has garnered a lot of attention lately, maybe more than its fair share. (Ok, William Shatner probably deserves his upcoming trip — the guy has been the very emblem of space travel for generations. Go, Captain Kirk, boldly go.)
Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk are the first in what is likely to be a long line of billionaires who, having conquered the globe, reach increasingly farther outward in their endless quests to find meaning in life. Space travel has become the next shiny thing, it seems. With motives ranging far outside the realm of scientific advancement, the latest wave of space travelers has its sights set on the distant corners of our solar system. They blast off, focused on remote horizons.
But when astronauts and civilian space travelers are up there, cocooned in the infinite cosmic blanket of the vast beyond, what captivates them — almost uniformly — is that sparkling blue gem, the humble home planet, our astonishing and uniquely hospitable Earth. So far from earth, they are mesmerized by it.
In 1632 astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei wrote “If you could see the Earth illuminated when you were in a place as dark as night, it would look to you more splendid than the moon.” Graced with an imagination that allowed him to visualize a celestial view of Earth and the technical capacity to understand that maybe one day mankind would achieve such an objective, Galileo pinpointed humans’ fascination with our miraculous planet.
Sian Proctor, who recently made history as the first Black woman to pilot a spacecraft, echoes what so many astronauts before her have said about their first trips into orbit — that her most memorable moment in space was the view of our planet. “To me the Earth became this kind of living painting — this moving, swirling ball,” she said. “I just couldn’t get enough.”
Apollo 11 astronaut Mike Collins said that the overriding sensation he got looking at Earth was “my God, that little thing is so fragile out there.” Cosmonaut and spacewalk pioneer Aleksei Leonov referred to Earth as “our home that must be defended like a holy relic.”
If it takes a trip into Earth’s orbit to truly appreciate our holy blue marble, we’re in trouble. But if this swell of civilian space joyrides can deliver one collective benefit it might be that eventually enough painters, poets, filmmakers, writers, and musicians will be able to capture and share their state of wonder, and then finally, perhaps, we’ll fully understand that there’s no place like home.