“Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from the outside, is available, a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.”
– Sir Fred Hoyle, 1948
When we set out to shoot Chasing Atlantis, we thought our film would primarily focus on the legacy of the Space Shuttle. However, Paul first noted how frequently our journey turned introspective, examining space’s impact on my own life. For example, I hadn’t anticipated that a road trip to see the last shuttle launch would result in interviews with my grandfather and his repairing the old telescope we used to look at planets when I wasn’t much taller than the tripod.
Seeing myself reflected in our journey made me uncomfortable. This wasn’t supposed to be a film about my story. This was a film about space’s story. And that discomfort sat with me until I read a quote from Astronaut Jim Lovell of both Apollo 8 and 13: “We learned a lot about the Moon, but what we really learned about was the Earth…and how insignificant we really are, but then how fortunate we are to have this body and to be able to enjoy living here amongst the beauty of Earth itself.”
Happy Earth Day!
To help celebrate, I decided to jump on the “Global Seflie” shuttle that is being promoted by NASA Today. NASA is hoping to create a mosaic of the Earth from the ground up rather than from space down with the participation of selfies from all across the globe in celebration of Earth Day.
I’m stoked about this campaign by NASA because I think it demonstrates a growing trend connecting space sciences with global and social awareness. My other website www.nobordersfromorbit.com uses space and science fiction to promote social change. As my formal education is in international development, I am always thrilled to bring both my interest in space and social change together and indeed I truly believe both fields inspire one another (which I spoke about recently at TEDxUTSC full video coming soon!) Apollo astronauts said that in going to the Moon, we discovered the Earth. Indeed, nobody had seen the world like Apollo saw it; a blue marble adrift in a giant black ocean. Certainly puts things in perspective.
Our knowledge of the Universe gives us a perspective that inspires us to treasure our tiny blue dot and remember that our world, and the life that it cradles, are fragile and precious. Let’s take care of it! And, on that note, to the Global Selfie I took. It started as a chalk drawing I did at Simon Fraser University Residence where I live and work. My drawing skills are not amazing, but I thought it would be fun to do something that could be captured from the roof of the building I live in. The idea is that you show where you are on Earth right now. I am standing generally in British Columbia (based on my semi-accurate chalk drawing 😉 )
From the Roof
I encourage you to take your own Global Selfie today! Just remember to use the hashtag #globalselfie
43 years ago yesterday, on July 20th of 1969, humanity set foot for the first time on another world.
1 year ago today, July 21st, Atlantis’ mission, STS135, came to a close with the Shuttle’s safe return to Earth and subsequent finale of the Shuttle Program.
During our presentation at Fantasy and Sci-Fi Convention Polaris in Toronto earlier this month, we had the opportunity to meet several individuals who recalled being woken up by their parents in the early hours of the morning to watch as Neil Armstrong stepped off of the Lunar Lander. This moment in history would go on to be known when the whole world “looked up.” As we talked about Chasing Atlantis, the conversations at Polaris shifted to an expression of disappointment. Since Apollo, we have yet to visit other worlds. After watching the Moon Landing at age 10, one audience member relayed, it seemed reasonable that over 40 years later we’d have planted foot prints on other planets, asteroids, or moons at least within our own solar system.
At the Kennedy Space Center it is clear that the Apollo era is still dominant in how NASA brands itself. One of the largest displays is a Saturn V rocket. Tour guides, many of whom are retired NASA staff who worked during Apollo, recall how NASA’s share of the American GDP was close to 5% during the Space Race. NASA’s budget is now 1/10th that figure. Why? Some would argue politics. The Space Race was about beating the Russians to the Moon. When that was accomplished, there was no further impetus for pouring tax dollars into missions beyond the confines of Low Earth Orbit.
What’s next? Asteroid Mining with Planetary Resources? Mars? Whatever the mission, its success will demand public engagement. Lack of public support for NASA was what many of our interviewees cited as a reason why public funding has waned considerably. Why fund something if it won’t bring in votes? So the debate continues surrounding private entrepreneurship and whether the private entry into space exploration, with the advent of companies like Space X, and Planetary Resources, and space tourism companies such as Virgin Galactic, will bring a new push against the final frontier. Public engagement was a key focus of our documentary. We were excited to connect with both the Apollo generation as well as the current generation of sci-fi and space enthusiasts at Polaris to talk about shuttle; an icon that we realized was not as well recognized by today’s youth as by the previous generation. Perhaps that lack of resonance is partly due to the stagnation of space exploration over the last decades; something we continue to explore in our interviews.
Looking ahead, I am personally hopeful for a future where the next 4 decades see more giant leaps for humankind. The journey outward is about more than the curiosity of what’s beyond our planet, but also seeking a better understanding of ourselves in the process.