Friday, December 26, 2008

Whole Earth

Science writer and filmmaker Christopher Riley marks the 40th anniversary of EarthRise, the first photos of the Earth rising from behind the surface of the moon, taken by Apollo 8 astronauts as they orbited the moon.

It is interesting to consider that these photos almost never happened. They were not on the mission plan, and it was only because of the alertness and humanity of astronaut Frank Borman that we have these images at all.

Satellites and space probes have taken great photos of the Earth from space, but do not carry quite the same emotional impact of the realization that the images represents an event witnessed by human beings. But until humans leave low Earth orbit again they are all we are going to have.

The article also mentions the shelved Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite that Al Gore supported in the 1990s, which would have transmitted continuous video of the sunlit side of the Earth from deep space, and also investigated climate change.

A continuous video feed of the Earth from space would be a kind of spiritual nourishment for many people. For others it would be boring, the most expensive screen saver in history. But it would be a new stream of information we don't currently have, and over a long period of time, those who tune in would be changed by it.

The information streams our civilization feeds to us says a lot about our collective priorities, and the bits we pay attention to as individuals also say a lot about our individual priorities. For example, I have little interest in sports scores, less in the stock market, no interest at all in fashion or entertainment news. Amid all that noise and chatter, a continuous reminder of the wholeness of the Earth would be welcome. Maybe it would be the "killer app" that would finally get me to buy an HD television. Nothing else has up to this point.

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