There are only a few moments in life when you can experience “instant global consciousness” – a sensation described by those who have travelled to space, as being truly present and at one with the universe.
This week I was given the opportunity to live such a moment – bearing witness to the total solar eclipse with an incredible group of Virgin Galactic Future Astronauts, in the shadow of the Teton Range, Idaho. It was extraordinary to behold, the eerie shift in light before the world went dark – and then, just the deep stillness and beautiful corona. I still don’t have the words to adequately express its beauty and impact.
Astronaut, Edgar Mitchell, described the sensation (albeit from the wonders of space) so superbly – “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.”
After experiencing this tremendous moment at Camp Eclipse, I left with three feelings: awe, radical connectivity and hope. Firstly, awe – that beautiful sense of wonder and respect. To think that the sun is 400 times further away from us than the moon – and that it’s 400 times bigger – and that their perfect alignment gave us the gift of an eclipse. This, to me, is mind blowing.
First came my feeling of awe, and secondly – that feeling of radical connectivity – understanding that we exist only because of one another and Mother Nature. Watching the eclipse and feeling the temperature plummet, you understand so clearly that we would be nothing without the sun. It is over 93 million miles away and yet we still experienced her beautiful corona. That power is unfathomable, and yet we take her for granted, failing to harness that power as we should. Watching this incredible phenomenon reminded me of a conversation Thomas Edison once had with Henry Ford in 1931, “I'd put my money on solar energy. I hope we don't have to wait till oil and coal run out before we tackle that."
It’s moments like this that forever change our perception of the relationships we hold with the universe, and with one another. Reminding us that we are part of something bigger, and that our job on this earth is not to waste time on the million little worries – but to think about what our awe inspired mission is. The things that we can do every day, that will serve the next seven generations – those who will be here long after we are gone, those who will to witness the cycles of the universe that will continue for millions of years. Our job is also to stay alive, and to stay in awe of the natural wonders that we have been blessed with. As Einstein so beautifully said, “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”
When the Galactic Astronauts look back to earth they will have what Edgar Mitchell described as a “spontaneous epiphany experience” – an ability to view the wonderful web of life that connects us all, and keeps us alive – its fragility, its power, its sheer beauty, what Frank White coined “The Overview Effect”.
As the light emerged once again, the beauty of what we had just witnessed brought great hope for the future.
Encapsulated here, so beautifully, by astronaut, Ron Garan, "As I looked back at our Earth from the orbital perspective, I saw a world where natural and man-made boundaries disappeared, I saw a world becoming more and more interconnected and collaborative, a world where the exponential increase in technology was making the impossible possible on a daily basis. Thinking about the next 50 years, I imagined a world where people and organizations set aside their differences and realize that each and every one of us is riding through the Universe together on this Spaceship we call Earth. They realize that because we are all interconnected, we are all in this together and because we are all family, the only way to solve the problems we all face is together."
This brings me to my third feeling – my feeling of hope. As we stood together at Camp Eclipse, the world suddenly plunged into darkness, the feeling of primal fear was overwhelming. And then, as the light emerged once again, the beauty of what we had just witnessed brought great hope for the future.
Archbishop Tutu – a self-professed ‘prisoner of hope’ – describes hope as “Being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” A solar eclipse is a metaphor for the darkness we are experiencing in the world today. This darkness will only disappear if millions of sparks of hope bring back the light. All of us must be those sparks of hope, but hope is nothing without action. We live in an exciting time to be alive – all of us with a chance to re-engineer the systems – to create an ‘operating manual’ for spaceship earth (as Buckminster Fuller would call it).
We must stay in awe, stay hopeful and, most importantly, stay committed to awakening global action that is guided by an understanding of how connected we are to one another and this wonderful planet. What a wonderful opportunity Virgin Galactic has to build on the wonderful work of Galactic Unite and to ensure that all its future astronauts have their own awe inspired missions.
Space exploration will change humanity for the better. I’ll leave you with a quote from the New York Times after the solar eclipse of 1925…. “The perfect golden ring of light with a blazing jewel set in it was a sight that will never be forgotten ….the great lesson of the eclipse to the masses of those who saw it is that one little unusual phenomenon in the skies makes us realise how closely akin we all are in this common planetary boat out on an ethereal sea that has no viable shores.”