Fragile Oasis

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

We all have moments in our lives where something shifts, clicks into place. For me it was in June of 2008, when I clamped my feet to the end of the robotic Canadarm-2 on the International Space Station. With me firmly attached to the end, the arm was flown through a maneuver that we called the “windshield wiper,” which took me across a long arc above the space station and back. As I approached the top of this arc, it was as if time stood still, and I was flooded with both emotion and awareness.

Here I was, 100 feet above the space station, looking down at this incredible man-made accomplishment against the backdrop of our indescribably beautiful Earth, 240 miles below. Witnessing the absolute beauty of the planet we have been given from this perspective was a very moving experience. But as I looked down at this stunning, fragile oasis — this island that has been given to us, and has protected all life from the harshness of space — a sadness came over me, and I was hit in the gut with an undeniable sobering contradiction. In spite of the indescribable beauty of this moment in my life, I couldn’t help but think of the inequity that exists on the apparent paradise we have been given. I couldn’t help but think of all the people who don’t have clean water to drink or enough food to eat, of the social injustice, conflicts, and poverty that exists throughout the Earth.

Seeing the Earth from this vantage point gave me a unique perspective – something I’ve come to call the orbital perspective. And at its core is the undeniable and sobering contradiction between the staggering beauty of our planet and the unfortunate realities of life on our planet for many of its inhabitants.

I returned to Earth after that first space mission with a call to action. I could no longer accept the status quo on our planet. We have within our grasp the resources and technology to solve many, if not all, of the problems facing our planet yet, nearly a billion people do not have access to clean water, countless go to bed hungry every night, and many die from completely preventable and curable diseases. We live in a world where the possibilities are limited only by our imagination and our will to act. It is within our power to change much – and yet we don’t.

My second journey to space began in April, 2011 with a launch from Kazakhstan on a Russian-made rocket with a couple of Russian guys. Our launch was designated to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first human in space. We launched from the same launch pad that Yuri Gagarin launched from, very close to the 50th anniversary of that historic day.

On this second space mission, I spent half of 2011 living and working onboard the International Space Station (ISS). And while onboard, I spent most of any available free time I had with my face plastered to a window, gazing back at our Earth. As I watched our beautiful planet, I wondered what the world would be like in the next 50 years, and I pondered a question that gnawed at me constantly: If we have the resources and the technology to solve the challenges we face, why do they still persist?

Up there, hovering above Earth with my orbital perspective, I came to believe that the answer to why our world still faces so many critical problems — in spite of the ample technology and resources we have at our disposal — lies primarily in our inability to effectively collaborate on a global scale.

I’ll be discussing this in more depth in my next post, but I’d love to hear from you. What are your thoughts or ideas on how we can best address these challenges? What do you think is holding us back?

Please join me on October 11th at 11:00am ET for a Google Plus Hangout focusing on global collaboration and data sharing. My hope is that the discussion serves as a call to action – disruptive action.

This was originally posted on UNREASONABLE, a global resource and centrifuge of conversation for entrepreneurs.