The View From Space

 “Earthrise,” the magnificent photo taken by one of the astronauts during the Apollo 8 mission in 1968, became an instant hit worldwide. The sight of our little planet from the perspective of close lunar orbit was jarring for humankind. With the barren Moonscape in the foreground, our home seemed small and fragile in the distance.
      Another photograph, this one of the Earth in isolation, was taken a few years later during the Apollo 17 mission. It also was powerful and influential. Nicknamed “The Blue Marble,” this shot revealed our home as a beautiful oasis of life. These photos exposed some of our most cherished delusions. For many, seeing the Earth by itself in the blackness of space was enlightening. For some it put the brakes on instinctual urges toward tribal loyalties, greed, and conflict. Finally, we had a different perspective of ourselves, something very different from the view down here on the ground. In an instant, anyone could recognize that all people share one home and that we are all “passengers on the spaceship Earth,” or “crew”, if you prefer.  
      These two photographs are credited with helping inspire and fuel a growing environmental movement 40 years ago. Peace activists were emboldened by images that seemed to confirm their belief in the correctness of human unity and cooperation. I probably was influenced as a child by those photographs. I grew up in a time when we were able to look back at ourselves and reflect on our behavior and goals. Who knows? Maybe those photographs discouraged me from taking all our manufactured divisions between people too seriously. If so, then I owe those photos a lot because my life has been better for not falling under the spell of an exclusive ground-view perspective of home.
      I wonder if the people of the Cayman Islands might benefit from seeing the Cayman Islands from space. I don’t mean that beautiful satellite image that is sold in some stores and on Amazon. That one shows Grand Cayman in splendid full-frame glory, but I think a more distant perspective would be best, one that shows our three islands from a distance. We need to see our three little mountaintops peeking above the sea. It might calm us down a bit and make us think more about what matters down here.
      I am not suggesting that a space-shot of the Cayman Islands would be anywhere near as profound or moving as those two Apollo images. But it could be meaningful for many Caymanians, nonetheless. Seeing our islands in isolation, small and surrounded by water, unspoiled by district borders or conflicting ideologies, might touch a few hearts.
      It could be a useful exercise to show children a satellite image of our home, so they can see the real Cayman Islands with the noise turned down. When they are tugged to join this gang, that political party, this clique, that club, maybe they will remember that, no matter where they go or whom they associate with, they are still just people sharing a little patch of dry green in a deep sea. It can’t hurt.
      I would also add to this visual image a brief survey of time and where we fit in. From our perspective, the Earth is staggeringly old at 4.5 billion years. But that’s not really so old when you consider that our larger home, the universe, is more than 13 billion years old. Life on our planet is at least three billion years old but anatomically modern humans are only some 200,000 years old. Civilizations have been around no more than several thousand years. The age of machines has been underway for a couple of centuries and the computer age only a few decades. If we were to become extinct tomorrow, we would be judged to have been a mere “flash in the pan”.
      Over the years I’ve interviewed and written about many astronauts. Most of them spoke of how looking down at the Earth or seeing the Earth from the surface of the Moon changed them. A few said wars and prejudices became trivial and ridiculous under the power of a mere glance toward home. Maybe it’s a stretch, but if Cayman’s children could see our islands from space, and reflect on the reality of our position in time, they might recognize that many of our daily concerns are just plain silly and lead a fuller, more purposeful life as a result.
      Guy is the author of two books, including “Race and Reality: What Everyone Should Know About Our Biological Diversity” (Prometheus Books). Contact Guy at [email protected]