I have always said, “you can’t see any borders from space.” Apparently I was wrong.

On the evening of August 17, 2011, I “flew” to the Cupola, the windowed observatory of the International Space Station, to shoot some photographs for a time-lapse photography project I have been working on for Fragile Oasis.

Before beginning the sequence, I took some practice shots to verify camera settings. As I was about to delete them, something caught my eye. In one of the pictures, a very obvious illuminated line snaked across a large landmass for hundreds of miles.

Initially, I wrote it off as a strange exposure from moonlight reflecting on a river. But, I was intrigued and did some investigating, only to learn this was not a natural reflection at all. Rather, it was a human-made border between India and Pakistan to control passage between the two countries (pictured below). To the left New Delhi, and the cities of Jaipur and Jodpur. At the right edge, Karachi in Pakistan. The most striking feature is something that is frequently thought not to be visible from space, a border.

Realizing what this picture depicted had a big impact on me. When viewed from space, Earth almost always looks beautiful and peaceful. However, this picture is an example of human-made changes to the landscape in response to a threat, clearly visible from space. This was a big surprise to me.

Since the beginning of human spaceflight over fifty years ago, astronauts have reflected on how peaceful, beautiful, and fragile the Earth looks from space. These reflections are not clichés that astronauts say because it feels good. It is truly moving to look at the Earth from space.

The point is not that we can look down at the Earth and see a human-made border between India and Pakistan. The point is that we can look down at that same area and feel empathy for the struggles that all people face. We can look down from our orbital perspective and realize that we are all riding through the Universe together on this spaceship we call Earth, that we are all interconnected, that we are all in this together, that we are all family.

When we look down at the Earth, we are faced with a sobering contradiction. On one hand, we can clearly see the indescribable beauty of the planet we have been given. On the other hand – the unfortunate reality of life on our beautiful planet for a significant portion of its inhabitants.

It saddens me and compels me to action when I realize that we have the resources and technology to overcome almost all of the challenges facing our planet, yet nearly 2 billion people do not have access to clean water, countless go to bed hungry every night, and many die from preventable and curable diseases.

I have always said, ‘you can’t see any borders from space.’ Apparently I was wrong.  Tweet This Quote

I believe that 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 eliminate the suffering and poverty that exist on our planet.

The answer is quite simple – just do something. The challenges of the world are really about how each of us individually responds to them. In other words, to what extent does humanity, on a person-to-person basis, commit to making a positive difference, no matter how small, or how big?

I challenge you to be a vehicle to effect real change. Engage with other people and organizations that share this common goal, and collaborate to develop synergy toward overcoming our planet’s challenges. Encourage others to make a difference, and offer to help organizations that are striving to make the world a better place reach their goals.

We must work together to reduce the sobering contradiction that we see when we look at the Earth. We don’t have to be in orbit to have the orbital perspective and by working together we don’t have to accept the status-quo on our planet. Thank you for all that you are doing and all that you will do to make life on our planet as beautiful as our Earth looks from space.

Strive to improve life on Earth so that it is not only visibly beautiful, but life is beautiful for all.  Tweet This Quote

Ron Garan

Author Ron Garan

A fighter pilot, social entrepreneur, astronaut, and aquanaut, Ron Garan has done it all. He is now the Chief Pilot at World View Enterprises, co-founder and director of Manna Energy, and the author of Orbital Perspective.

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