A fragile planet
A rambling by Tom Knapp,
October 1992

An astronaut's gaze is not always turned to the distant horizon.

Ask Scott Carpenter, one of NASA's original seven picks for the space program and the second man to orbit the Earth. During a visit to Pennsylvania's Millersville University, he said astronauts are apt to turn their gaze homeward.

"If a spaceman has any lasting message to leave for the general public, it is 'let us take better care of our home planet,'" he said. "We have seen from a distance how delicate and fragile this planet is. We must change our ways, because the planet is in danger."

The root of all ills on the planet, he said, is overcrowding caused by a growing population. But he balks at laying blame on world governments for the current dilemmas.

"I think we're all guilty in one way or another of misbehaving in our home," he said. "And it's going to take all of us to make it better."

Astronauts have a peculiar perspective on the Earth, he said, because "we can see the planet from a distance better than we can up close."

Sensors designed to look at other planets and distant stars have been turned on Earth from space, he said. "We see things that we were not aware of, and they are alarming." Changes in the planet's atmosphere, for instance, "signal our early demise" unless decisive action is taken.

"This planet is not terra firma," he said. "It is a delicate flower and it must be cared for. It's lonely. It's small. It's isolated, and there is no resupply. And we are mistreating it. ... Clearly, the highest loyalty we should have is not to our own country or our own religion or our hometown or even to ourselves. It should be to, No. 2, the family of man, and No. 1, the planet at large. This is our home, and this is all we've got."

[ by Tom Knapp ]