Can you imagine all countries and continents you have ever seen, every human being that has ever lived, every living thing that has ever existed on our planet, everything that has ever happened, even our planet itself, being reduced to just one tiny dot? I could not. And yet it happened.
Back in 1990, the astronomer Carl Sagan convinced NASA to turn one of the cameras of the Voyager spacecraft around to take one last look at the planets as it left the Solar System. The image produced was as spectacularly simple as it was impressive. Viewed from a distance of 6.5 billion kilometres, the Solar System was a black space – one in which the planets became mere tiny dots on a screen.
A single pixel was blue.
Astronauts returning from trips to space report how vulnerable our planet appears from outside. The Apollo missions taught us that our Earth is but a piece of rock surrounded by a wafer-thin atmosphere, travelling along a predetermined orbit through a black, empty and hostile universe. Or, as Buckminster Fuller once put it, Spaceship Earth circles the Sun once a year with all of us on board. It is our only ship. If we disturb the fragile life support system on board this spaceship, we will not survive.
When we stand on Earth’s surface, the resources that surround us seem endless. When we travel in an aircraft, we are already above two thirds of Earth’s atmospheric mass. If compressed to the density of water, the atmosphere would have a thickness of just 10 metres. When launching on a rocket, we leave its outer reaches in eight minutes. And yet it is the one thing protecting us from noxious cosmic radiation.
When confronted with a problem, it is often wise to take a step back and view the situation from the outside. And it is precisely this perspective that I hope to bring back from the Blue Dot mission. I want to communicate what it feels like, as a human being, to view our planet from outside, and how valuable this perspective is.
I am convinced that the time will come when each of us will have the opportunity – once in our lives – to see the planet from this perspective. And I am certain it will change humankind for the better. After all, it is up to each and every one of us to decide whether we wish to fly as a passenger or as a crewmember on Spaceship Earth.