Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to be an astronaut. I was fascinated by the concept of space – the final frontier, as Captain James T Kirk so eloquently put it. Thirty years on, I remain in awe of everything beyond this planet, and wonder how I would feel about Earth, and my time on it, were I able to go up there, among the stars, and look down on this precious planet.
Via my good buddy Eirik’s Twitter, I’ve just watched a multimedia presentation the likes of which I’ve never seen. Sponsored by fashion house Louis Vuitton, and including a stunning photograph by Annie Leibovitz, A Journey Beyond presents three iconic astronauts and their adventures in space. I’m not embarrassed to admit that watching and listening to them, I shed some tears.
Sally Ride (the first woman in space), Jim Lovell (Apollo XIII commander) and Buzz Aldrin (the second man on the moon) each speak about the moments in their lives that shaped history. Ride’s tale of being the first woman in space is extraordinary when you consider she was not even a pilot when she enrolled in the space program. Lovell’s Apollo XIII miracle is well documented, and the subject of Ron Howard’s 1995 movie of the same name, in which Tom Hanks plays Lovell. Aldrin’s moon landing, celebrating its 40th anniversary this week, is as unbelievable as anyone could imagine.
Listening to their heroic, pioneering tales, one thing rings true. Space exploration is so important. Aside from the scientific advancements research from space has provided, the exploration of space is essential in gaining an understanding of the world we live in, and why it is so important to treat both it, and ourselves, with respect.
If each of these astronauts, and their many colleagues, could be given time with the Kim Jong-Ils and Osama bin Ladens of the world to discuss the error in their folly, perhaps they might listen, and feel there is more to life than bombs, religious division, terrorism and arguments. If you travel to space, you come home with one of the most valuable things availbe to a human being – perspective.
Having watched A Journey Beyond, I feel I’ve had the privilege of a little precious, one-on-one time with this trio of extraordinary human beings who now have that perspective, and gained a valuable insight into why that’s such an important thing to remember. In life, only a few things are really important – peace, harmony, love, caring are among them. Sadly, we spend far too much time on other less important things for our own selfish gratification.
Hence my tears. They were both in awe at the stories, but equally in frustration that we can’t all think with kindness when confronted with our differences.
Each of Ride, Lovell and Aldrin describes looking back at the Earth from space, and how it changed their perspective. It is a life-changing experience. How could it not? Lovell’s anecdote of covering the Earth with his thumb through the window of Apollo XIII perfectly encapsulates how we should all look at the Earth. “Everything I know in life is right behind my thumb,” he thought. It seemed so small, and yet we we all have to live together on it.
Aldrin describes standing on the surface of the moon, looking up over the lunar horizon, the sky black, the Sun blindingly bright, and sitting peacefully between it all, the Earth, glistening like a jewel in the distance, its colours no doubt impossible to describe. “It wasn’t beautiful,” he said. “It was unearthly.”
When you consider the chaos, the devastation, wars, killings, cruelty, environmental mismanagement and other atrocities that we have all had a hand in creating, you cannot help but think the giant leap Aldrin’s crewmate Neil Armstrong took has been followed by two in the opposite direction.
I’m convinced we’d take more care of things if we’d all been to space and been able to look back on what it is we’re actually making a mess of. Surely, we’d look back and wonder “why”, and return to Earth with a renewed resolve to do better, to nurse our tiny planet and leave it in the best possible shape for those that follow. It doesn’t matter if it’s too late. We have to change our intentions.
The Vuitton campaign is not just a wonderful piece of multimedia innovation, with a beautiful soundtrack from composer Mathieu Baillot, but it is also aiming to increase awareness of the many environmental issues that threaten our very being and time on Earth, and also promotes Al Gore’s “Climate Project”.
I strongly recommend that you take the time to look at it, and I trust you’ll try to make the world a better place when you’re done. In the last words chapter, Lovell says: “The one thing I never worry about is crisis.” If only we could all be so philosophical. Ride mentions “perspective”, and the importance of “seeing Earth as a planet”. Aldrin returned thinking about the future, and “how to make it better”.
We can’t all go to space, but by thinking the same way as those that can, perhaps we can make a difference.