When You Look at the World’s Conflicts and Problems From a Long Way Away

From the June 21, 2019 New York Times section on the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11—these memories were part of “50 astronauts with far-out memories: What’s it really like to live in space? The views are great. The bathroom breaks, not so much.”

Chris Cassidy: Current NASA astronaut, flew in space twice between 2009 and 2013; Navy SEAL who served several tours of duty in Afghanistan; 500th person in space.

I never was a big crunchy tree-hugger kind of person. But when you’ve seen the planet from that viewpoint, it makes you appreciate the planet. The atmosphere is so thin, and you realize that that’s what keeps all 7 billion of us alive. Earth is a spaceship for all of us. It was 2013. So we’re 12 years into [the war in Afghanistan]. And those guys down there are probably still doing the same things we were doing in 2001, and I got to imagine the overall scheme of things hasn’t changed that much. But it made me think: What’s the purpose of all this? Because when you look down at Earth from above you don’t see borders, you don’t see names of countries you just see this big blob of blue and brown and green and white clouds. It made me feel a little more introspective about conflict than when I was a sledgehammer-wielding SEAL.

Charlie Bolden flew on the space shuttle four times for NASA between 1986 and 1994; retired Marie Corps major general and former NASA administrator.

Somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes after my first launch, when I raised my seat and had an opportunity to look out of the windows in the shuttle, I saw this series of land masses coming up. And it didn’t take me long to figure out: Okay, that’s the British Isles and Europe. And then I looked up a little bit farther and saw this massive—it looked like a big island.  And it took me a few seconds to realize that that island was the continent of Africa.

And you know, being an African-American, I had done a lot of study of African geography. I wanted to be able to look down and identify some of the potential countries from which my ancestors had come on the west coast of Africa. And it may soun stupid because I thought I would be able to distinguish one country from another. And what absolutely amazed me was this massive land mass that went from the Mediterranean all the way do the tip of South Africa with no borders or boundaries. Going from the beautiful Mediterranean coast though the Sahara Desert all the way down through the jungles in the equatorial region and then down into South Africa and not a single sign of an individual country. And I actually got tears in my eyes because that was my big wake-up call to the fact that we are on this one planet together. We’re not really divided and separated the way we had been taught to believe.

Terry Virts Jr. flew on two space shuttle missions for NASA between 2010 and 2015; he is now a retired Air Force colonel.

You’re floating in space and you look out of a hatch and there’s a planet over there, like you’re not on your planet anymore. And that’s pretty profound. It  surprised me, the emotion impact that that had on me. I’m not an idealist, and I’m very much a realist. I spent 30 years in the Air Force, and I’m not a pie-in-the-sky guy. But I just go, “Why the hell are we having these conflicts down there?”


  1. Thank you.

  2. Barnard Collier says

    Good stuff.

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