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A view from elsewhere

Watch humanist space historian Pier Bizony describe what we can learn from our endeavours in space
I think the spaceflight story shows one of the best aspects of humankind and that is that we can build the most extraordinary technologies, extend our curiosities and, through our electronic and robotic tools, even extend our physical reach right across the solar system. We even have a handful of probes that are skittering out of the solar system and making their way to distant stars. They won’t get there for hundreds of thousands of years but they carry little messages on their sides just in case anyone finds them. There’s something magnificent about that especially as we did it for no other reason than pure curiosity.
I think the fundamental purpose of spaceflight is - the poet TS Eliot put it really well - ‘at the end of all your wanderings, the greatest exploration is to return to the place you started from and know it for the first time.’ Nothing is more important about spaceflight than the view of Earth that it gives us. When I was a kid of course I was fascinated by the hardware of spaceflight, the rockets and the shuttles and all this kind of thing but as I grew up I got really interested in what lay behind this enterprise; the politics, the society, the cultural elements, and now I look at spaceflight as what it means not for outer space but for planet Earth.
I think the thing that the astronauts brought back from the Moon almost to NASA’s surprise was an obsession with the Earth. They all came back and reported my gosh you really realise when you’re out there just how precious the Earth is. And of course the other thing they all say is you don’t see any borders when you’re in space, you just see one planet with at the time it was three billion people it’s now seven billion people scurrying around the surface of this thing protected from the vacuum of the cosmos by an incredibly thin layer of atmosphere. If that doesn’t make us all part of a shared humanity then I don’t know what does.
In the 1970s we launched space probes right across the solar system for the first time and eventually they got so far away from Earth that when they turned their cameras back to find us, we were as the famous scientist Carl Sagan said, nothing but a pale blue dot.
In fact that blue dot amounted to less than one pixel on the image and Carl Sagan said that’s it, that’s your mum, your dad, your grandparents, everything you will ever own, everything you will ever be, every war that’s ever fought, every cathedral that’s ever been built, every rail system, every plane flight, every poem, every book, every human squabble, every human alliance, every piece of love, every piece of hate, every pointless ambition, every mad dream, it’s all there on that one little pixel - there is nothing else. We are all sharing that one pixel in the infinity of space.
So we do have to be careful because we can so easily blot that pixel out if we are don’t get along better.

Piers Bizony is a science journalist, space historian, and author. He is a Patron of Humanists UK.

Question: What impact might our capacity to see the Earth from space have on our understanding of the human condition?

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