Earth Appreciation: The View from Out There
In July 1969, Michael Collins served as the Command Module pilot on Apollo 11, the historic first mission to land men on the moon. He circumnavigated the moon alone while Eagle Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended to the lunar surface. John Hammack, former chair of the West Point Association of Graduates, has characterized Collins’ 1974 autobiography, Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys, as “the single best book of its genre” and “the standard reference on space travel.” It lends new perspective on time, light and movement from one who has seen the fragile Earth from the other side of the moon.
Collins marked this year’s 40th anniversary of the most widely viewed and daring exploration of all time with comments from his book and his life.
“I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of 100,000 miles, their outlook could be fundamentally changed,” says Collins. “That all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn, serenely ignoring its subdivisions, presenting a unified facade that would cry out for unified understanding, for homogeneous treatment. The Earth must become as it appears: blue and white, not capitalist or Communist; blue and white, not rich or poor; blue and white, not envious or envied.
“From the moon,” he continues, “Earth looks small, shiny, serene, blue and white, fragile… but appearances can be deceiving. It’s certainly not serene, but definitely fragile, and growing more so. The loss of habitat, the trashing of oceans, the accumulation of waste products—this is no way to treat a planet.”
Collins reports that as he circled the dark side of the moon 40 years ago, alone in space, isolated from any known life, he did not feel lonely. Half a billion people around the world were cheering on these pioneers and watching as Armstrong climbed down the Eagle’s ladder and proclaimed: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Over the next three-and-a-half years, 11 moonwalkers would follow in his footsteps. Gene Cernan, commander of the last Apollo mission, left the lunar surface with these words: “We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.”
For more information, see The Wonder of It All, in limited release and available on DVD in 2009. Other renowned documentaries include In the Shadow of the Moon (2007) and For All Mankind (1989). For news of the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling “NASA ART: 50 Years of Exploration,” touring from 2009 to 2012, visit; also available as a book.
More on the View from Out There
“We’re living on a tiny little dust mote in left field on a rather insignificant galaxy. Basically, this is it for humans. It strikes me that it’s a shame that we’re squabbling over oil and borders.”
~ Bill Anders, Apollo 8, Earthrise photographer.
“You come back impressed, once you’ve been up there, with how thin our little atmosphere is that supports all life here on Earth. So if we foul it up, there’s no coming back from something like that.”
~ John Glenn, Jr., first American to orbit the Earth (1962) and former U.S. senator.
“From up there, it looks finite and it looks fragile and it really looks like just a tiny little place on which we live in a vast expanse of space. It gave me the feeling of really wanting us all to take care of the Earth. I got more of a sense of Earth as home, a place where we live, and of course you want to take care of your home. You want it clean. You want it safe.”
~ Winston Scott, two-time shuttle astronaut and author of Reflections from Earth Orbit.
“I left Earth three times. I found no place else to go. Please take care of Spaceship Earth.”
~ Wally Schirra, Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions (1960s).
Photo courtesy of NASA, scanning by Kipp Teague