Living in Space

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Imagine yourself as one of the travelers on a somewhat round-shaped space-vehicle which revolves on its own axis at a speed of nearly 1700 kilometers per hour while also circling around another planet at an amazingly fantastic speed of 107,000 kilometers an hour. In one such elliptical orbit you will take one year in covering the circumferential length of 150 million kilometers. Do you think it is too much for you? Well it certainly appears like an out-of-the-world scenario and your first thoughts could give you goose pimples. But hang on friends; this is the reality. This description exactly matches our very own Planet Earth. We are indeed doing what is described. Mother earth is our very own space vehicle which has an average diameter of a little over 12,700 kilometers. Why do we talk about the average? Because the real shape of earth is an oblate spheroid, its polar diameter is lesser than the equatorial one. Just think of a pumpkin. But pumpkin is too flat on its top and bottom; Earth has only little dimples on its two poles which make its vertical size just a little shorter than the middle girth. The weight of earth in kilograms is the digit 6 followed by 24 zeroes.

One of the most wonderful things about space vehicle, earth is the carefree way of our existence. It is a well-provisioned shuttle on which we sail through space. We have everything that we want and more, because what we don’t have now, can be produced or grown. We don’;t have to worry about running out of oxygen or water. Despite salt-water oceans occupying over 70% of earth’s surface, there is always plenty of water everywhere else. Where there is any deficit, internal movements make it possible to ferry water without much trouble. Many places of earth’s surface have favorable soil and climate to allow us to grow vegetables and fruits. Our planet functions as a massive life-support system for over six billion human-beings as well as many trillions of other life forms which are the fellow travelers in our journey in space.

Apollo astronauts while on their trip to the moon took pictures of our planet. In these pictures, earth looks like a beautiful jewel in the inky blackness of space. But let us just pause for a while and think. Aren’t we taking things too much for granted? Apparently, yes. Our selfish ways will most certainly endanger our current cozy existence. Just like any spaceship; Earth too has limited resources, vulnerable life-support systems and a finite carrying capacity. You may recall that on April 11, 1970, Apollo 13 was launched for a lunar mission but the landing had to be aborted after an oxygen tank exploded two days later. It crippled the service module, which supported the command module. The Apollo crew suffered great hardship, caused by limited power, loss of cabin heat, shortage of potable water, and the critical need to somehow manage the carbon dioxide removal system. The whole world watched with bated breath and there was an all-round relief when the crew returned safely to earth on April 17.

Our situation aboard Spaceship Earth is very similar. True, the scales are vastly different because what took just a few seconds to recognize by Apollo crew is taking us decades. As a matter of fact, our situation is even worse because unlike the Apollo crew we have nowhere to get back to. If we keep indulging in mindlessly disrupting earth’s life-support ecosystem, the coming days will present a serious challenge. We need to conserve water, stop pollution, stop cutting trees, and follow a less materialistic economy. Today, spaceship earth has 6 billion travelers but tomorrow that number will go up. We need to plan for sustainability. Up until now, we are addicted to a growth-dependent economy and the grossly materialistic lifestyles. If steps are not taken to curb our current attitudes and ever-expanding aspirations, we will face a catastrophe of unmanageable proportions. It is going to be the biggest challenge that any generation has ever faced. Spaceship Earth is our one and the only beautiful world and if we fail to preserve it who will?

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