When Suzanne Vega sang these words, I don’t think she had the picture in mind. I’m sure she didn’t, in fact, but somehow the words resonate both with the picture’s title and its subject.
Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of planet Earth taken on February 14, 1990, by the Voyager 1 space probe from a distance of 3.7 billion miles. The scientist Carl Sagan requested that NASA turn Voyager round to photograph Earth one last time, before this human-made object headed into the space between the space. It has now travelled the furthest from its origin than any human-crafted object has, and is currently still communicating with us at a distance of 13 billion miles.
We did that. As a species, we did that. In doing so, we have helped us all to understand our place, both physical and metaphysical, in the Universe.
“As we begin to comprehend that the earth itself is a kind of manned spaceship hurtling through the infinity of space — it will seem increasingly absurd that we have not better organized the life of the human family.”
— Hubert H. Humphrey, Vice President of the United States, speech at San Fernando Valley State College, 26 September 1966.
“Oddly enough the overriding sensation I got looking at the Earth was, my god that little thing is so fragile out there.”
— Mike Collins, Apollo 11 astronaut, interview for the 2007 movie In the Shadow of the Moon.
“If somebody’d said before the flight, “Are you going to get carried away looking at the Earth from the moon?” I would have say, “No, no way.” But yet when I first looked back at the Earth, standing on the moon, I cried.”
— Alan Shepard
Perhaps the first group of people on those much-hyped commercial space flights shouldn’t be a random collection of wealthy individuals. It should be the leaders of every nation on the planet. They should see what it is that they, collectively, represent.* Maybe they can stay up there until all of them can prove they understand what it is to affect the future of A Small Blue Thing.
As I started gathering quotes for this post, the so-called “Doomsday Clock” (not, as the BBC article was at pains to point out, a real timepiece) was advanced by 30 seconds, largely because of the expected problems caused by one individual, living on that pale blue dot.
For Humans, that dot disappearing would be apocalyptic. For the Universe, not so much. It really is time we all remembered that.
* Plus there could be a TV show public vote to decide who we allow back to terra firma.