“Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from the outside, is available, a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.”
– Sir Fred Hoyle, 1948
When we set out to shoot Chasing Atlantis, we thought our film would primarily focus on the legacy of the Space Shuttle. However, Paul first noted how frequently our journey turned introspective, examining space’s impact on my own life. For example, I hadn’t anticipated that a road trip to see the last shuttle launch would result in interviews with my grandfather and his repairing the old telescope we used to look at planets when I wasn’t much taller than the tripod.
Seeing myself reflected in our journey made me uncomfortable. This wasn’t supposed to be a film about my story. This was a film about space’s story. And that discomfort sat with me until I read a quote from Astronaut Jim Lovell of both Apollo 8 and 13: “We learned a lot about the Moon, but what we really learned about was the Earth…and how insignificant we really are, but then how fortunate we are to have this body and to be able to enjoy living here amongst the beauty of Earth itself.”
What I’ve clearly seen during our filmmaking process is that an exploration of the world and universe around you also becomes an exploration of yourself. When you travel, when you pursue a passion, when you venture out into the stars, you end up looking back on yourself. So when I saw this “graffiti” at the new Trottier Observatory at Simon Fraser University, I thought the messenger had made a false dichotomy…and they ground my gears.
Our exploration of space is such an extraordinary example of how a journey into the wider world also becomes a journey into oneself. Howard Trottier, project head of the Trottier Observatory, said in his interview with us “Astronomy can be just as powerful as any other discipline in understanding the human condition.” As we gaze into the stars, and then pursue them,we think also think of ourselves and our own planet, its future, and how we can work toward cherishing our oasis in the blackness of space. It is impossible to set out with a passion to learn and not become vulnerable enough to learn about yourself and reflect on your impact on the world around you.
The conversation uniting our view of the heavens and our care for the planet is growing. Released today, for Earth Day, is the highly anticipated documentary “Planetary” described as a “wakeup call that explores our cosmic origins and our future as a species.” The film features interviews with astronauts and astronomers as well as environmental activists. Astronaut Ron Garan recently published his book “The Orbital Perspective: A Call to Action” following his time on the International Space Station. The book encourages a global focus and call to social and environmental action. And I will weigh in here as well. April marks the one-year anniversary of my TEDx talk “Why Diamonds in Space Inspire me to Support a School in West Africa” being posted to YouTube. I go on about Star Trek and being a nerd and such but my main point is that our exploration of the stars is primarily a search for the most profound discovery we could ever make; life elsewhere in the universe. Why? Because we inherently value life and our journey outside earth reminds us of that value. If you’ve got 20 minutes, check it out. It has a good Earth Day theme.
Below is one of the first images taken by the new Trottier Observatory; a brief 30 second grey scale exposure of the Whirlpool Galaxy. I was proud to be a small part of the observatory becoming a thing (I mainly just told architects, astronomers, and engineers how cool I thought they were while I ate their food at catered meetings.) An image like this does’t make me forget about Climate Change, would-be graffiti poster, it inspires me to scream to the world that we are one small but incredibly beautiful part of the cosmos and….well I’ll let Apollo Astronaut Edgar Mitchell finish my thought:
“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.”
―Edgar D. Mitchell