Today the European Space Agency (http://www.esa.int) will broadcast a live stream with astronauts who have practiced isolation for major parts of their career. The hash-tag generation has of course given this a very appropriate name #SpaceConnectsUs. Scientists and researchers who spend months in complete isolation, orbiting the planet, will talk about their own isolations so we can better cope with our present situation.
What fascinates me most, however, is the unique choice of words: space, connects, us. As I look at the sky, it becomes obvious that space is, after all, that which truly connects us. It is the single blanket, closer to earth we call this sky and atmosphere, that envelops the earth. We see space, we breath space, we embrace space, our lives happen in space. I guess, astronauts are at an advantage to see this connectivity because they actually seeit. Carl Sagan rendered this marvel and wonder when he said:
“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.” — Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994
I love that image of our earth suspended in space, of imagining that what we have around, that who we are, is just a tiny speck of dust in a vast space that defies time. We cannot even begin to keep track of the zillions and zillions of years as we know and call them that takes to create, change, explode, destroy. And we are only a very very small part of these gigantic cosmic happenings.
When I was small, I wanted to be an astronaut. We had the Discovery series books at home, all navy blue leather-bound, glossy papered, full of pictures. My favourite was the one titled The Age of Space Exploration. This well-thumbed volume had fascinating pictures of the blue earth, various colourful constellations, the bejewelled milky way. It had photos of Yuri Gagarin, of Laika, of the historic giant leap moment of Armstrong. I never bothered too much with the text, looking at the pictures instead. I saw the reds and blues and yellows of supernovas, dreamed of floating in space capsules like the astronauts did in their white space suits, to watch our earth grow smaller and smaller as my shuttle headed off into space. Then as I grew, the goals changed too. From astronaut to marine biologist to artist to musician and I finally landed up with literature: the doorway to all past, present and future wishes, because all that was needed from me was my imagination. And that I had plenty of.
Wouldn’t it be inspiring to really imagine ourselves in a closed shuttle, hurtling through space with a huge glass window through which we can see our earth recede? What would we see? What would we notice? First, I can spot the village where I live, maybe the house as well, then the mountains that rise and fall between France and Spain. Now, I see my beloved Mediterranean, all blue and calm with white sails of boats out in the sea. As I go further, I can see Europe, can guess where the borders might be, all I can see are settlements and mountains and the rivers, I see the Rhine and know where the children are, I can roughly guess, a bit north of the river where the Taunus mountains are. By now, the details are getting difficult to distinguish. Then Asia, the great spaces of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and then the Hindukush and Himalayas, and finally south of it, home. But even that recedes and soon there is only land and sea. And further away, clouds increase until white frothy swirls cover the whole planet. Now I see a blue globe, I begin to realize that home has now spread, it is everywhere, it has transformed into the blue ball and slowly but surely, all that remains is the tiny dot, suspended in vast cosmic darkness.