Seeing planet Earth from space changes your life forever. It raises your awareness, triggers your compassion, and gives you a rush of happiness, as Otje van der Lelij discovers.
I was always amazed by the stars when I stared up at the night sky as a child. Questions would bubble up in my head like: How did they all get there? How did it all start? What else does the universe hold? And what are we doing here on Earth? As I got older and began reading books about astronomy, my wonder and curiosity just grew. I’m blown away by the idea that our solar system is one of billions in our Milky Way galaxy. And there are around two trillion more galaxies out there in the universe; it’s simply mind-boggling.
I kind of like how tiny it makes me feel. It certainly puts my daily worries into perspective, and gives me a powerful sense of purpose. I am grateful to be part of this awe-inspiring universe and, at the same time, be able to look at it as a conscious observer. So when I heard that the view of our Earth from space is a transformative moment for astronauts, and that you can experience this ‘overview effect’ at the Columbus Earth Center in Kerkrade, the Netherlands, I immediately felt inspired to go. So I did.
On my arrival, I entered the spherical Columbus building, where I would soon go on my space trip, obtaining a view of the Earth that only 500 people in the world have actually witnessed firsthand. In the short introductory movie, astronauts like the Dutch André Kuipers share their experiences in space. “The first time I saw Earth was through my colleague Mike Fincke’s window,” Kuipers says, “because the sun was shining in on my side and it was way too bright. ‘André, look,’ Fincke said. I looked, and saw Earth—a curve of blue with the black universe next to it. It’s something you cannot possibly imagine. And I suddenly realized: I’m not part of it, I’m here, floating beyond the planet. That’s such a strange moment. You become part of something much bigger.”
After my visit, I called Dutch philosopher Govert Derix, one of the other speakers featured in the introductory movie. “People usually look ahead, toward the future,” he tells me, “and the first astronauts to enter space looked ahead, too, to where they were heading, to the moon. When, at a certain moment, they also looked back, they saw that what they were leaving behind was perhaps even more beautiful than where they were going.”
- Read the full story ‘Space journey’ in Issue 31.
Text Otje van der Lelij Photography Matthew Schwartz/Unsplash.com