What A Wonderful World

It has been an emotional, disappointing week in some ways.

As everyone here in the United States knows, we are in the midst of a heated presidential election.  Like any informed citizen, I have my opinions.  But I choose to not engage in the online discussions I see on social media.  Actually, the things I see have quickly graduated from constructive discussions to something that is best described as vicious confrontation.  It comes from both sides and even those in between.  I have seen a lot of name calling.  I have also seen a lot of f-bombing.  Both practices indicate, at least to me, a lack of vocabulary and stable temperament.  They also point out a lack of will, or intelligence, to debate the issues respectfully.  Name calling is never okay.  Yes, I drop my fair share of f-bombs, but never in conflict.  And I especially never direct that word to anyone, just because I don’t agree with them.

People, even people who I am very close to, have tried to convert my way of thinking and bait me into arguments.  They have told me that I am stupid, for the sole reason that I do not share their opinions, and I choose to make sense of our politics and the world differently than they do.  I am well aware there are plenty of people out there who do not agree with me.  They probably never will.  Not only do I realize this, but I appreciate it.  And therein lies the difference between me and some of those who have come after me lately.

And, by the way, stupid is the absolute last thing that I am.

My initial thought was to stay the hell off social media for a few days; but it isn’t in my nature to cut and run like that.  What I will do instead is ignore the vitriol.  And I will focus on what is amazing about this world.  What unifies us.

When I was a child I used to look up at the night sky and contemplate all that existed beyond this place we call home.  I would seek out books and magazine articles about space travel and planets.  I had an old favorite that I held on to, an old and tattered Life magazine with dozens of pages and photos of our solar system, courtesy of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2.

I fantasized about being an astronaut.

Life would have other plans for me.  By high school I figured out that my talents were meant for the world in different, creative ways, and not those based in science.   But my appreciation never waned.  I never idolized entertainers or even athletes.  But those brave, brilliant people who made their way into space, be it by being scientists or test pilots, were beyond worthy of my adoration.  To this day, I think about how they go up there and look down at our beautiful planet.  I think about the things that go through their heads; how aside from the tasks at hand, they probably look down at this heavenly blend of white, brown, green and blue, and realize that we are all in this together.  They wonder how we can continue to hurt each other and stand in conflict, when we all share this beautiful home, so small and unassuming in the vastness of space.  How hatred is so pointless.

I wish we would all see it, too.

Astronaut William Anders took this photo of the Earthrise. This is how the crew of Apollo 8 first saw it. The original broadcast to Earth was in black and white, this beautiful color photo became available later.

On Christmas Eve 1968, the crew of Apollo 8 orbited the moon.  Those three men were the first human beings in history to orbit another celestial body, and witness the sight of the Earthrise.  Broadcasting images and audio back to all the citizens of this planet, they read the first ten verses of Book Of Genesis, based in Christianity, but words that are universal to the core beliefs of all faiths of the world.

Astronaut Frank Borman finished the reading with a message for all citizens of the planet.

“From the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”

This home we share, suspended mysteriously and miraculously in the immeasurable magnitude of the universe.

Good indeed.

In the days following Neil Armstrong’s death, most of the science and history based channels on television were, in his honor, replaying a lot of NASA footage and documentaries.  A week ago I came across an interview with Michael Collins, part of the Apollo 11 crew and pilot of the command module.  He orbited the moon, alone, while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were exploring the lunar surface.

For forty-eight minutes of each orbit he was out of radio contact with Earth.

In this interview, he said he is always asked if he felt scared or alone during all that time in lunar orbit.  He said that he never really, truly felt scared or alone, but always reflective.  The alone feeling started to sink in a bit when he was on the dark side of the moon, by himself, for the first time.  He looked out and saw the endless, lonely black of space.  But when he came around and saw the Earthrise for the first time, he felt comforted, aware and connected.

His belief, that we are all in this together, was reinforced forever.

Over the past fifty years, the select group of men and women who can call themselves astronauts is an extremely small one.  For a while, wealthy private citizens were hitching a ride to space with the Russians for millions of dollars.  Today, wealthy private citizens are building their own space vehicles with the hope of taking us to the edge of space and beyond, but the price will still be out of reach for the vast majority of us.  I wish we can all go up there and look down in amazement at the Earth and gain the gift of perspective.   That while we can still disagree, we need to be better.  While opinions will always differ, we need to be kind.  Whether we want to realize it and admit it or not, we are in this together.

And it’s awesome.

Here are some fascinating NASA photos to celebrate the awesomeness.  Not only is the Earth in the background beautiful, but the photos also celebrate the advancement of science and what we humans can do.  The spacewalk photos are particularly fascinating to me.  They are moving at five miles per second, 17,500 miles an hour, but do not feel it because of the vacuum of space.

Astronaut Sunita Williams working on the construction of the International Space Station, 2007.

Astronaut Dr. Kathryn Thornton repairing the Hubble Telescope in December 1993.

Kathryn Thornton about to release a defective solar panel from the Hubble Telescope. Dr. Thornton is a mom of three daughters, and stepmom to two sons. An inspiration.

In July 2005, Shuttle Commander Eileen Collins performed the first ever flip maneuver 600 feet away from the International Space Station. The purpose of the complicated 360 degree pitch maneuver was to ensure heat shield tiles were stable, and the underside could be photographed by cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev and astronaut John L. Phillips from the space station. That is Switzerland down on Earth. Awesome!

Everyone have a wonderful weekend.

Let’s all be thankful for our home.

Let’s not forget our common ground is far more powerful than our differences.

What a wonderful world.

Probably the most amazing photo ever taken. Apollo 17 mission. December 1972.

Photos courtesy of NASA.  All are public domain.

For a glorious time lapse video of our planet from the International Space Station:

And for the inspirational reading from the Apollo 8 crew.  Regardless of what faith you choose to follow, the message is inspiring:



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