How can going to space change the best way we stay on Earth? Sure, spaceflight results in new applied sciences, however it additionally presents new philosophies.
That’s in line with retired NASA astronaut Nicole Stott in her new ebook, “Back to Earth: What Life in Space Taught Me About Our Home Planet — And Our Mission to Protect It” (Seal Press, 2021). Stott explores the philosophies that govern the International Space Station and the methods we should embrace them on Earth to deal with the crises at present dealing with humanity.
In Chapter 2, she explains that when she seemed down at Earth from orbit, she was struck by the distinction between the blue of Earth’s atmosphere and the black of space — and by how fragile that line seemed from above.
You can also read an interview with Stott.
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Chapter 2: Respect the Thin Blue Line
Rowan Henthorn is a marine scientist and ocean advocate who had lived on the island all of her twenty-seven years and was working for the Isle of Man authorities as a climate change researcher and ecosystem officer. In 2018, she was a member of the crew of the primary eXXpedition North Pacific mission to what’s often known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The intention of the on‑going, all-female eXXpedition crusing voyages, which I had adopted from afar via social media, is to “raise awareness of, and solutions for, the devastating environmental and health impacts of single-use plastic and toxins on the world’s oceans. To make the unseen seen.”
Like most individuals, after I first heard of this place referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, I imagined an enormous floating island of rubbish, even perhaps the dimensions of the Isle of Man, on the floor of the ocean. My creativeness was not imaginative sufficient as a result of, whereas not an precise island, the rubbish patch is estimated to be twice the dimensions of Texas — about 2,500 instances bigger than the Isle of Man! Regardless, I puzzled if I might have seen it from space (I couldn’t). In actuality, these patches are largely unseen. Flying simply above it or crusing via it, you don’t see an island of rubbish in any respect, just some cloudiness within the water and smaller clumps of floating trash. This is why it is extra appropriately described as an oceanic smog than an island. These rubbish patches are out of sight in the midst of the Pacific Ocean, in order that they typically stay out of thoughts, however that does not make them any much less problematic.
Figuring out how a lot plastic is admittedly there and easy methods to clear it up is made much more sophisticated by the truth that the majority of the particles is teeny tiny — what’s often known as “microplastics.” Trillions of items of microplastics are combined with bigger items of particles, reminiscent of discarded fishing tools and nets and different bigger sorts of trash. All this strikes via the ocean within the swirling currents often known as a “gyre.” So, this rubbish shouldn’t be solely a difficulty on the ocean’s floor however is distributed all through the water column. Microplastics have been found polluting the deepest explored elements of the ocean (and on the tops of the very best mountains).
I discovered it troublesome to wrap my thoughts round this quantity of microplastics infiltrating our oceans. I’ve seen the fashions that scientists have constructed to symbolize what number of satellites and the way a lot space junk is circling our planet, which is troublesome sufficient for me to understand, however that pales compared to the tens of millions of instances extra plastic within the ocean. To me, it is overwhelming.
Rowan and I spoke of her dedication to meaningfully share her eXXpeditionary expertise of crusing within the midst of this plastic and to deliver it to life for her fellow islanders at residence. She is working onerous at each the governmental and grassroots ranges to draft the island’s insurance policies for plastics and its response to local weather change, and to lift consciousness and encourage sustainable enhancements to the standard of life each on and off the island. She additionally helped me turn into conscious of the shocking variety of constructive environmental safety and sustainability initiatives taking place on the Isle of Man.
I requested Rowan if she thought that individuals can be extra inspired to take motion if the rubbish patch actually was an enormous island of plastic floating on the floor of the ocean.
“They already think it is, so I’m not sure there would be a greater response, unless maybe if it was floating in their own backyard.” Then, with somewhat extra pleasure in her voice, she added, “When you are in the middle of it, you look out on a blue expanse of water around you, for as far as the eye can see it’s blue. Yes, there are many recognizable plastic items floating past the boat, but in large it’s blue. It’s not until you put a net in the water that you realize that you are surrounded by trillions of tiny, microscopic pieces of plastic.
“For me that is a lot scarier than a plastic island. A plastic island in a manner appears manageable — scary, however manageable. That’s why it is so necessary to make the unseen seen. I hope it helps folks to comprehend that the options to points like this begin on land, with our actions. There is not any silver bullet that is going to all of the sudden scoop all of the plastic out of the ocean. We have to alter our techniques and our conduct — we now have to show off the faucet!”
You’d think that traveling to space or sailing three thousand miles across the ocean would allow you to truly “get away,” but it doesn’t.
As Rowan put it, “There is not any ‘away.'”
There’s no “away” for us because no matter where we go, even to these remote places, we still experience the impact of our own human behavior, and the evidence of our behavior is presented to us through the stuff that doesn’t go away, like the plastic in our oceans. There is continuity in all this. I think it all comes down to the interconnectivity of everything that surrounds us: we live on a planet surrounded by unseen MMOD [micrometeoroids and orbital debris, which pose a risk to the International Space Station], protected by the thin blue line of atmosphere that surrounds and contains the air, land, and sea, and all the life that inhabits these places, even the microplastics permeating our oceans. All is interconnected, and all influences the planet’s ability to sustain life in one way or another.
Excerpted from “Back to Earth: What Life in Space Taught Me About Our Home Planet—And Our Mission to Protect It” by Nicole Stott. Copyright © 2021. Available from Seal Press, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
You can buy “Back to Earth” at Amazon or Bookshop.org.
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