July 24, 2024

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A tour of the Earth helps confront today’s issues

A tour of the Earth helps confront today’s issues

The earth is flat and the sky is endless. This is how you see the world when you walk outside in the morning. An optical illusion of course. We live on a round sphere and the air is a very thin shell.

The great philosopher Johan Cruyff said: “You will not see it until you realize it.” Twenty years ago I realized this. Then I was launched into space on a Soyuz rocket. For the first time I saw the Earth “from the outside.”

India twice in an hour and a half

I remember well. The launch was hectic. As a co-pilot I had to follow my procedures. I didn’t have time to look out the window. That came later, when we flew over India. I thought a billion people lived there. They all believe: the earth is flat and the sky is endless.

An hour and a half later I had flown around the Earth once and seen India again. For me, the land suddenly felt very limited. It was as if he was shrinking before my eyes. I saw vast oceans filled with salt water, deserts and mountain ranges. In fact only a small part of the fertile soil.

He supervised everything
American writer Frank White interviewed a group of astronauts about the first moment they saw Earth from space. They told him of a state of awe, a moment in which they transcended themselves. Many astronauts have experienced a new perspective that they never lost. White called this unique astronaut experience the overview effect.

The claustrophobia of planet earth

Later I was often asked: Didn’t you feel claustrophobic in that little spaceship? No, on the contrary. I wasn’t afraid and I didn’t feel alone. I actually experienced that I was part of something much bigger, of the universe. I saw Earth and I saw myself, both made of the atoms of an exploded star.

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For me, it was the opposite: I had a feeling of fear of the Earth. An hour and a half and I was done. I thought this was the case. This is the only place where people can live and we can only get out with the utmost effort.

The Earth is a small cell

When I looked straight down, I saw the majestic land. Mountain ranges, cloud systems, deep red desert. Beautiful. But if you look beyond it, you see a thin, fragile layer of atmosphere. As if it could be blown up.

Before my eyes the Earth shrank into a single cell, as you can see under the microscope. With a very thin membrane. Like bacteria, amoeba or a cell in our body. I felt weak. I thought if anything touched it it would break.

Point of view is a medicine against the issues of the times

Only astronauts know what it’s like to see Earth from space. I hope everyone can try it once. As a medicine against contemporary issues. Against pressure, pressure, pressure and opinion machine. We are all made of stardust. You won’t realize it until you really see it. And you see the land around you in a completely different light.

Do you have a question for Kuipers & the Cosmos about the universe, space travel or sustainability? Send an email to [email protected]. André Kuipers answers the most original posts in this section each month.

Want to read more from Kuipers? For example, he tells you How realistic are space movies, and why put children’s feet in space? That as an astronaut you don’t actually have to be good at anything.

Astronaut Andre Kuipers (1958) lived and worked in space for 204 days. He is trained as a doctor, but advises you not to consult him. You can contact him with questions about space travel, astronomy, and sustainability. He talks about these topics in books, television, and theater. It’s your perfect guide to extraterrestrials, a subject that has fascinated him his entire life.

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