Spaceflight affects not only the body but also the mind. Viewing Earth from space day in and out for six months is bound to change a human’s perspective on Earth’s future in our Galaxy.
Living on Earth it is easy to find it rich, vast, and powerful. However, seeing Earth suspended in the void of space with just a thin protective layer shielding all its inhabitants from cosmic radiation, extreme temperatures, and flying projectiles, our mothership suddenly seems so fragile.
This cognitive shift is known as the overview effect that many astronauts report during and after spaceflight. It is an awareness brought on by countless hours of Earth viewing and the photographs taken, like this image captured by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst from the International Space Station in November 2018, that shows just how thin Earth’s shield, our atmosphere, really is.
It is hard to measure the thickness of our atmosphere, as it becomes thinner with increasing altitude. Though there is no definitive boundary line between it and outer space, atmospheric effects become noticeable when spacecraft reenter Earth at an altitude of 120 km.
Regardless, it is the product of billions of years of biochemical change by the countless organisms able to survive on Earth thanks to this protective layer.
However, should life on Earth continue in its industrial-era tracks, the threats to our planet are internal. Unchecked human consumption of natural resources is causing global temperatures to rise. The resulting change in climate is wreaking havoc on natural habitats and leading to major weather events.
ESA’s Earth observation satellites, along with astronauts from the International Space Station, are witnesses to this global crisis and continue to provide us with data and imagery to inspire action.
This week representatives from almost 200 countries have gathered in Katowice, Poland for the 24th conference of the Parties (COP24) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
One of the most important tasks at the summit is to agree the course of action to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement – and, with the 2°C target now deemed not enough, to coordinate an international effort to halt warming at 1.5°C.
The meeting focuses on a triangle of nature, man and technology, and will investigate how they can be used to reduce climate change and mitigate its effects.
This will take determined and coordinated international effort to help protect our planet. In the meantime, astronauts will continue to share this overview to inspire action.