The Power of Perspective — By Callisto
Over 50 years ago, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in battle.
It was a battle of power, each side trying to out-do the other with nuclear power…and rockets.
The USSR launched the first satellite (Sputnik I) into space on October 4th, 1957. Then the Soviets launched the first living animal into orbit on November 3rd, 1957, a former stray dog named Laika (who tragically died, partially due to the fact that they had no way to recover the dog’s capsule from space), yet again outdoing the United States who hadn’t launched anything into orbit yet.
Then the USSR launched the first person into space, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, on the 12th of April, 1961, yet again (as you may have guessed) leaving the USA behind in the space race.
But not for long. In the States, a space program had begun: NACA (soon to be NASA) which grew, and from it came the Mercury Program, which sent the first American person, astronaut Alan Shepard, into space; then the Gemini Program; and next, the Apollo Program.
You may have heard of some of these programs, but I’m almost certain that you’ve heard of Apollo. You’ve heard of Apollo 11, most likely… Because, hey, that’s the program that sent us to the moon for the first time!
But there were many very important lesser-known Apollo missions previous to––and following––Apollo 11. Like Apollo 1, which, though it never sent its crew to space and ended tragically with the deaths of three astronauts, may have saved NASA before it had barely started due to the hard lessons learned from the tragedy. Or Apollo 7, when NASA was first able to test out a manned Saturn V rocket in orbit.
But most important to this post––and to the entire environmental movement––was Apollo 8. Apollo 8 was the first mission to reach lunar orbit. And astronauts James Lovell Jr., William Anders, and Frank Borman were along for the ride, which launched on December 21st, 1968, for a six-day mission. Apollo 8 was the first human spaceflight to orbit an astronomical object: the Moon. Still, they never touched down on the Moon at all.
So why was this mission important, you may wonder, if they weren’t even landing on the Moon, and just flew around it for a bit?
You see, when Apollo 8 was launched into trans-lunar orbit, the astronauts were traveling farther away from our planet than any others before had traveled. The mission was not only important to the space program, because of all of the maneuvers, calculations, and theories they got to try in real life, and in preparation for a moon landing, but it was important in helping us realize something big…and very beautiful.
During the first-ever lunar orbit, when the Apollo 8 spacecraft came around to face Earth again, astronaut William Anders took one of the most famous photos in history: Earthrise.
Astronauts had looked back at Earth before, and taken photos of it, but what happened when Apollo 8 first went to the Moon was very special.
This photo was seen all over our world almost as soon as the astronaut photographer returned to Earth.
Nowadays this may not look that impressive. In fact, you’ve probably seen this very picture before. But imagine you hadn’t. Imagine that you lived in a world where no one had ever looked at Earth like this; never seen what our planet looks like from the outside. That’s what it was like, when the world saw this photo. People weren’t just looking up at the Moon at night, and seeing another world that most can only ever dream of stepping upon, and at this point, no one had; now, they were looking at their world. Our world.
This was the world upon which their parents, and parents’ parents, and their ancestors, had lived…the world upon which they now lived. And they saw that the planet that they were looking at, rising above the lunar surface, was alive. They could tell it was alive. Even if they had not known what planet it was, they would have been able to tell that this planet harbored life. They could see that it was blue, and green, and that it was living and breathing. That was the first time we’d ever really laid eyes upon it, and had seen how small it really was, even just looking at it from our own Moon. Millions of people saw our planet, looking as small and insignificant as our Moon does from here.
But the truth is that it’s not insignificant, and neither is our Moon. Every person I’ve ever met, every mountain I’ve ever climbed, every building I’ve ever sheltered in, every idea I’ve ever come up with, every friend I’ve ever made… is from that planet. This is the only home we’ve ever known, was the thought of almost everyone who laid eyes on this simple photo. And now it looked as small as a marble, on the front page of almost every newspaper and magazine.
We realized how small and delicate our planet is, but also how powerful the life is that thrives on it is. And for a lot of people, the ones who paid attention, the ones who were smart enough to listen and learn, knew: that planet––our planet––is in danger.
For even then, we already had hints, serious hints, that our climate could collapse. We knew we were harming it, and in more ways than one. So, the few who were smart enough to listen and learn, but also care about our future, thought: I’ve got to do something to save it.
A lot of them did. And according to Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, that was when the environmental movement was born, really born. Environmentalists advocated for the stopping of littering and the drilling for oil, for saving almost extinct creatures, and many more wonderful things, sometimes for the first time. They even helped the world stop whaling!
But unfortunately many of the things that they were fighting for have not yet been accomplished. People still litter. People still pollute. People still drill into that very world whose picture had been taken on that winter day in 1968, turning the oil that they find into fuel which we pump into our cars and planes and boats and factories and houses. And that, in turn, goes into our delicate atmosphere that has protected us and which harbors life, the very life of which we are a part.
And still we choke our planet in toxic gases and deadly waste which we throw carelessly into the earth and cover it with the ground as if, when we can’t see it, it’s not there. But it is. We know it is. We know what we’re doing, how we’re destroying our planet. We know it’s suicide and mass murder in the making. And…most importantly of all…We know how to stop it.
But not enough of us reach out of our own egocentric worlds to do enough about it. Not enough of us seem to care about what lies beyond our own daily lives and daily comings and daily goings. Not enough of us seem to be able to open our minds to what we really are: a species committing that suicide and that mass murder, and realize that, if we don’t do anything more to stop it, our presence on our planet may be as brief as the blink of an eye.
We all have intelligent minds, capable of doing what we did to get as far as we have gotten, and capable of saving us from our mistakes. Many of us have convinced ourselves that we’re not doing anything wrong, and that everyone who tells us that it is are the ones that are wrong. But they aren’t. Deep down, we all know that they aren’t. We know what we’re doing. But stopping doing it, and working out new solutions, isn’t convenient enough for many of us. It won’t make us any more money, will it? It won’t turn a profit. Many of us don’t seem to think that if you just have enough money, it will solve everything, and don’t realize that they can’t just buy a ticket out of here when our planet dies.
Maybe we all need to open our eyes again. Open them like so many people on this planet did all those years ago, when they blurred with tears as they gazed at the picture of their home world. Maybe, if those of us who never listened or believed, saw the world as everyone first saw it back in 1968…it would impact them just in the same way! Maybe it would help them to see the world as it really is. Because if none of us realize what a horrible end we’re creating for ourselves and the many other creatures of our planet, we never really have: we’ve never really seen our world.
Let’s glimpse our world again.