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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Reporter's Notebook: Falling in Love for the First Time

Air Date: Week of

Producer Richard Schiffman remembers seeing the new NASA photos of earth from space when he was just ten years old back at the end of the 1960’s. As he tells us in this reporters' notebook, those images forever changed the way he views his world.


CURWOOD: Producer Richard Schiffman remembers seeing those early NASA photos from space when he was just 10 years old. As he tells us in his reporter's notebook, those images forever changed the way he views his world.

(Spacecraft communications: "Cabin pressure is holding at 5.5. Cabin pressure is holding at 5.5...")

SCHIFFMAN: I'll never forget the thrill of it. The Mercury rocket ship teetering on a swelling ball of smoke and flame for a tense moment, then soaring in a bright arc over the Atlantic. It wasn't really the technological feat of leaving Earth that impressed me back then, but what the astronauts saw when they looked back.

ASTRONAUT [GLENN?]: What a beautiful view. Cloud cover over Florida, 3 to 4 tenths near the eastern coast...

SCHIFFMAN: The spacecraft beamed down pictures: the coast of Baja California glistening in the morning sun. The dunes of the Sahara undulating, rose- colored waves a thousand miles long. The Yangtze delta fat, green, and laced with clouds. Nothing strange. Just the well-known features of a planet: deserts, mountains, whirlpools of storm blossoming like white flowers. But it wasn't what I saw in those first photographs of Earth from space that impressed me the most. It's what I felt.

ASTRONAUT: I still have some clouds visible below me. The sunset was beautiful; it went down very rapidly. I still have a brilliant blue band clear across the horizon, almost covering my whole window...

SCHIFFMAN: When I looked at those first images of the Earth from space, I fell in love for the first time. At the age of 10 I fell in love with the planet which lay so beautiful and so touchingly alone against the blackness of space. And not just beautiful, but palpably alive, fresh in every moment behind the shifting veil of clouds and seasons.

ARMSTRONG: That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

SCHIFFMAN: Since those first manned orbital flights in the 60s, we've traveled even further afield to the moon, and with unmanned probes to the outer planets and beyond. But however far we go, we found nothing quite so lovely as our Earth. When astronaut Neil Armstrong said that stepping onto the lunar surface was a great leap for mankind, he may have been right. But it wasn't the high-tech leap that dazzled me. It was the long view back home.

ASTRONAUT: The surface is fine and powdery. I can -- I can pick it up loosely with my [pail?]...

SCHIFFMAN: Another moon walker, Jim Irwin, carries to this day a marble in his pocket which he rolls occasionally between his fingers, to remind himself, he says, how small and fragile the Earth appeared from its closest neighbor. Now, like Jim Irwin, we all hold the fate of life between our fingers. The scientists and the politicians will doubtless continue to argue the merits of this or that environmental policy. But as Earth Day comes, I prefer to remember the larger picture: the view of Earth from space. So lovely. So vulnerable. And in our hands, even as we nestle in her broad hands called continents. Afloat on turquoise seas.

MAN: ... main chutes comes through loud and clear on the television display here...

SCHIFFMAN: For Living on Earth, I'm Richard Schiffman.

MAN: ... splashdown at this time.

MAN 2: ... another chair in the control room as we head to splashdown.

MAN: ... recognize what I have in my hand is the handle for the contingency sample return...

(Music up and under: "Spirit in the Sky")

CURWOOD: Thanks to NASA for use of their archive recordings from the early space flights. It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.



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