by Jane Shevtsov
Through the centuries, contemplating space has been one of the richest sources of insights into the fact that we are one species on a single planet. Around 1690, the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens published a book of speculations about other planets and their possible inhabitants. In it, he wrote, "How vast those Orbs must be, and how inconsiderable this Earth, the Theatre upon which all our mighty Designs, all our Navigations, and all our Wars are transacted, is when compared to them. A very fit consideration, and matter of Reflection, for those Kings and Princes who sacrifice the Lives of so many People, only to flatter their Ambition in being Masters of some pitiful corner of this small Spot."
Three hundred years later, Carl Sagan echoed these same sentiments when he wrote of a picture of Earth from beyond Pluto's orbit. "Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there - on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
"The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds."
Astronomers are not the only people to have had this insight. From the beginning of the space program, astronauts of all nations have provided some of the most eloquent testimonials of our planet's wholeness and our species' unity. From up there, they tell us again and again, it looks like one world. Michael Collins, who flew on Gemini and Apollo, said, "I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of... 100,000 miles, their outlook would be fundamentally changed. That all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument suddenly silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn, serenely ignoring its subdivisions, presenting a unified facade that would cry out for unified treatment." Reflecting ecological concern common to many astronauts, Yuri Artyukhin said, "It isn't important in which sea or lake you observe a slick of pollution, or in the forests of which country a fire breaks out, or on which continent a hurricane arises. You are standing guard over the whole of our Earth." Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell was probably the most direct. "[In outer space] you develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, "Look at that, you son of a bitch.""
Space science also fosters global thinking. The Gaia hypothesis, developed by Jim Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, says that living things play an important role in regulating things like climate. It has given birth to Earth systems science, which treats Earth as a whole. In addition, the fact that CFCs deplete the ozone layer would have been discovered much later than it was without chemical data from studies of the atmosphere of Venus. The nuclear winter hypothesis grew directly out of the study of Martian dust storms. Both direct studies of Earth and comparative planetology show us how what happens anywhere on Earth affects what happens everywhere.
These insights have not been lost on the space enthusiast community. The website for Yuri's Night, a worldwide party celebrating Yuri Gagarin's April 12, 1961 flight, says, "Yuri Gagarin was the first human to see the Earth from space - to realize its awesome and fragile beauty. Yuri did not see lines demarcating countries or the conflicts between people... What he saw was a magnificent planet, a tiny oasis in space, the home that we all share." Although such thoughts are not enough -- Senator Jake Garn, who flew on the shuttle, once spoke eloquently of the perspective space gave him on Earth's problems and went on to imply that "one-world government" would mean the loss of individual freedoms -- the more of us share this perspective, the closer we'll come to building a global government. Congressman Bill Nelson, who also flew on the shuttle, has put forward the idea of a summit meeting in space. Perhaps that is where Earth's constitution will be written.
Jane Shevtsov, email@example.com, is an Ecology, Behavior and Evolution major at UCLA and co-founder of World Beyond Borders.
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