Very few of us will ever get to venture into space, but for those who do it is not just a dream come true, a scientific pursuit, or a step for mankind – it is also a profound experience, and one that can in some small way, be passed on to those below. We have known this ever since astronaut William Anders took his famous Earthrise photo on 24 December 1968. Said to have played a huge part in galvanizing the environmental movement, it suggests that there is something about looking down at the planet that inspires us to protect it.
Nicole Stott’s book, Back to Earth, is very much in this vein. Now with her feet firmly on the ground, the retired astronaut, who undertook two spaceflights and spent 104 days living and working in space as a crew member on both the International Space Station (ISS) and the Space Shuttle, dedicates much of her time to passing on the lessons she learned. These lessons are largely drawn from the extraordinary international cooperation that the ISS represents, where, since 2000, 15 countries have peacefully worked together. It is, says Stott, a ‘model for how we should be living and working together as the crew of Spaceship Earth.
Rather than strict commandments, each chapter loosely highlights a particular ‘way of being’, taken from life in space – including ‘act like everything is local’ and ‘never underestimate the importance of bugs’. There’s no hint of preachiness and, in fact, the bulk of the narrative is taken up with fascinating stories of Stott and others’ time spent in space – sure to please anyone who wishes more than anything they could experience it themselves.
Stott’s ‘ways of being’ really boil down to being respectful of your environment. On the ISS, this is essential to ensure the survival of the crew. But, of course, it’s a good analogy – the same applies to the planet as a whole. This is then both a manifesto and a memoir, fascinating for anyone interested in space travel, environmentalism or ideally, both.