Fragile Oasis

Connecting Space and Earth: Learn. Act. Make a Difference.

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My Orbital Perspective

Fragile Oasis bloggernauts show us new and incredible views and insights of our planet from their vantage point 240 miles above the surface.

Images from Ron Garan, Nicole Stott, Doug Wheelock and Don Pettit show amazing beauty. Two things are abundantly clear. First, you can’t easily see Earth’s geo-political borders from orbit (though a recent blog by Ron has shown us that some borders are visible from even 240 miles up). Second, we all share the same planet. Besides our orbiting outpost in low earth orbit, that planet is all we currently have to sustain life.

Others on Earth could point out that you also can’t see the individual people that inhabit the planet in any of the astronaut imagery. Sure, you can certainly see evidence of the human race in our city lights, airplane contrails, ship wakes, and even some human-made structures. But you can’t see individuals, so maybe it would be easier for astronauts to gloss over the hardships people face on Earth and just look at the pretty jewel of a planet that is our Earth. Clearly, they do not. These thoughts are what inspire me to write this blog post.

As the Lead Flight Director for Increment 28 (commonly known as Expedition 28), I was responsible for the overall safe and successful execution of the part of the International Space Station mission that spanned the period of May 23 - September 16, 2011.

Just as the crews on the Space Station can look down and see indirect evidence that we’re on the planet, you and I can regularly step into our backyards or streets nearly anywhere on the planet and look up in the dusk or dawn sky and see a bright light steadily and swiftly moving overhead. We can’t see Earth’s representatives living and working in orbit 240 miles (389 km) above our heads, but we can see evidence they are there. (If you’ve never watched the Station fly over, you really ought to see it at least once - sighting opportunities are listed on

The International Space Station passes over Houston, Texas. The ISS is dimming as it heads towards the horizon, passing near the Big Dipper. Credit: Michael Grabois

The crews on the Space Station may not see the individuals on our planet, but we who work to support that spacecraft can. As Flight Director, I regularly interact with people and cultures across the United States, in Canada, in Russia, across many European nations, and in Japan. I have friends and colleagues in those countries that I have never met but whom I know well, not because we speak the same language (we don’t), but because we share a joint sense of mission to further the exploration of humanity and our planet through the efforts of human spaceflight and the research being conducted on the International Space Station.

The photos from our Bloggernauts are useful to show the people of our planet that we do live on an oasis hanging in the harsh darkness of space that we must care for and protect. In the same way, the realities of the international cooperation accomplished every day on Earth in support of the Space Station are useful to show the rest of the world that it is possible for many nations of very different cultures to not only work together, but to do so in a manner that furthers each nation’s peaceful pursuit of mutual goals.

Our beautiful planet photographed by Ron Garan from the International Space Station on April 21, 2011

It is because of my experiences as a flight controller and Flight Director in Mission Control that I know we human beings are capable of great things,existing peacefully and supportively with each other regardless of nationality. It is also because of my experiences in this international endeavor that I agree with Ron Garan when he says, “…each and every one of us on this planet has the responsibility to leave it a little better than we found it.”

Regardless of nationality or culture, humans have always looked up and wondered at the heavens above our heads. That wonder now includes a platform that has housed at least two human beings non-stop since November 2000. Said differently, human beings have had a continuous off-Earth presence for almost eleven years now. The sense of wonder that draws us to look at the heavens draws nations together in common purpose. We embrace each other's cultures, and together see the advantages to including additional nations in an effort to explore our planet and its surroundings. This joint, mutual cooperation to peacefully explore may very well be one of the lasting legacies the International Space Station leaves humanity.

We do live on a Fragile Oasis, and we do have a very long way to go to fully live peacefully on it. Forging the partnership that is the International Space Station was certainly not easy to develop, nor was it quick. But perseverance towards the goal of exploring the heavens and learning more about our planet made it a goal worth pursuing.

As we celebrate fifty years of human spaceflight this year, I’m proud of all that this planet has accomplished in the human exploration of space. I look forward to the explorations that are to come, and I cannot wait to play my part in that in the years ahead.