It’s happening again. Seeing the earth from space is raising our awareness, as a species, of the precious and precarious nature of life on what astronomer Carl Sagan called our “mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.” Many U.S. astronauts commented on the transformative personal experience of seeing the earth from space. Chinese astronauts are having the same experience. More importantly, they are communicating the heart of Carl Sagan’s message to the large Chinese television audiences following their accomplishments in space.
As the three-person crew from the Shenzhou 10 mission was returning to Earth this morning, the CCTV news anchor covering the touchdown asked Chinese astronaut Liu Wang, a member of the preceding mission, to recall his feelings at the moment he returned to Earth from his 13-day journey to China’s Tiangong-1 spacelab.
“As an astronaut, the thing you realize at that moment is that space is important, but the Earth is more important. Opening the hatch after being enclosed in such a small space for so many days with your colleagues, you smell the fresh air, the dirt, the green grass blowing in the wind, you feel the sunshine and you realize how precious and beautiful the Earth is. Space exploration is very important, and I believe we will discover life on other planets someday, but not in my lifetime. The Earth is all we have. It is our common home. We need to protect it.“
Had Carl lived to see it, he would be smiling.