10 Quotes on Seeing the Earth from Space

"Blue Marble" by the crew of Apollo 17.  December 7, 1972

“Blue Marble” by the crew of Apollo 17. December 7, 1972


Today is Earth Day.  The day first proposed by Iowa-born activist John McConnell at a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) conference in San Francisco in 1969. Earth Day was first celebrated March 21, 1970.  This original Earth Day was primarily focused on world peace.  U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin) organized a separate Earth Day dedicated to environmental issues on April 22 of that year.  Earth Day is now celebrated by more than 192 countries each year.

It is a turbulent and oftentimes confusing world we live in.  It can be difficult to gain perspective on the fragile nature of our planet.  Fortunately, the Earth day movement came of age during a time when humanity was exploring outer-space for the first time.  There is a phenomenon dubbed “The Overview Effect” by author Frank White in his 1987 book The Overview Effect — Space Exploration and Human Evolution.  Simply put, the Overview Effect describes the feeling some space travelers have upon seeing the earth from space.  It is a shift in awareness.  Astronauts have expressed a need to see humanity unite to protect what they see as a fragile planet.  Astronauts have certainly seen the earth in a way many of us can only imagine.  For Earth Day, here are some of the most interesting quotes on the earth from space voyagers from around the world:


“When I watched the horizon, I saw the abrupt, contrasting transition from the earth’s light-colored surface to the absolutely black sky. I enjoyed the rich color spectrum of the earth. It is surrounded by a light blue aureole that gradually darkens, becoming turquoise, dark blue, violet, and finally coal black.”

Yuri Gagarin, Cosmonaut, First Human in Space


“Up in space when you see a sunset or sunrise, the light is coming to you from the sun through that little shell of the Earth’s atmosphere and back out to the spacecraft you’re in. The atmosphere acts like a prism.   So for a short period of time you see not only the reds, oranges and yellows, the luminous quality like you see on Earth, but you see the whole spectrum red-orange-yellow-blue-green-indigo-violet.  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, Astronaut, First American to Orbit the Earth


“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”

Neil Armstrong, Astronaut, First Human to Walk on the Moon


“A Chinese tale tells of some men sent to harm a young girl who, upon seeing her beauty, become her protectors rather than her violators. That’s how I felt seeing the Earth for the first time. I could not help but love and cherish her.”

Taylor Wang, Astronaut, First Ethnic Chinese Person in Space


“Something about the unexpectedness of this sight, its incompatibility with anything we have ever experienced on earth elicits a deep emotional response… Suddenly, you get a feeling you’ve never had before… That you’re an inhabitant… of the Earth.”

Oleg Grigoryevich Makarov, Cosmonaut


“If people can see Earth from up here, see it without those borders, see it without any differences in race or religion, they would have a completely different perspective. Because when you see it from that angle, you cannot think of your home or your country. All you can see is one Earth.”

Anousheh Ansari, Iranian-American Space Tourist


“I left Earth three times. I found no place else to go. Please take care of Spaceship Earth.”

Wally Schirra, Astronaut, Mercury and Apollo Programs


“As we got further and further away, it [the Earth] diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man.

James B. Irwin, Astronaut, Apollo Program


“Looking outward to the blackness of space, sprinkled with the glory of a universe of lights, I saw majesty—but no welcome. Below was a welcoming planet. There, contained in the thin, moving, incredibly fragile shell of the biosphere is everything that is dear to you, all the human drama and comedy. That’s where life is; that’s were all the good stuff is.

Loren Acton, Space Shuttle Astronaut


“The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone, our home that must be defended like a holy relic.  The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word round meant until I saw Earth from space. ”

Aleksei Leonov, Cosmonaut, First Human to Conduct Extra-Vehicular Activity


And finally, one last passage from Carl Sagan:

“Look again at that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

Carl Sagan, Astronomer



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