Review: Back to Earth
by Jeff Foust
|“No picture, no video, and no conversation with others who had flown before could have prepared me for what I saw with my own eyes and felt with my own soul,” Stott writes. “All the Earth’s colors glowed with an iridescence and translucence I’d never seen before.”|
That experience made her appreciate something she considered simple and profound: we live on a planet, “and the only border that matters is the thin blue line of atmosphere that protects us all.” That becomes the jumping-off point for her book, which used her spaceflight and other life experiences to illustrate the importance of taking care of the Earth—of being a crewmember of “Spaceship Earth” just as she was a crewmember of the International Space Station.
Stott organizes the book around several lessons for readers to follow that are based on that understanding. These are not specific things to do but more like mindsets to adopt, like “live like crew, not like a passenger” and “go slow to go fast” (that is, the most progress comes from making deliberate, planned actions, rather than flailing around.) She discusses those lessons with her own experiences as well as interviews with others, including those involved with the environment. The book is not a memoir, although she does bring up many anecdotes from her time before, during, and after NASA.
The book, targeted at general audiences, makes clear the importance space can play beyond simply offering that new perspective of the Earth. She discusses the research being done on the ISS that has applications on Earth, efforts by companies and organizations to use satellites to track environmental change, and even laments that not enough funding is supporting work on space-based solar power, “one of the most promising technologies” to end dependence on fossil fuels.
Even in the wildest imaginations of commercial spaceflight evangelists, most people won’t get a chance to experience the Overview Effect on even a suborbital spaceflight for the foreseeable future. She argues you don’t need to go to space to experience what she calls an “Earthrise moment,” which she describes as any moment that offers “a sense of awe and wonder that inspires you in a life-changing way” and better appreciate your role as part of the crew of a spaceship that could use some help. But a trip to space, though, as Shatner discovered, wouldn’t hurt.
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