We’re going to see some jaw-dropping photos from NASA’s Artemis I moon mission. We’ll feast our eyes on lunar craters. We may catch a glorious Earthrise. But today, my heart is quietly imploding over a simple black and white photo of Earth as seen by the Orion spacecraft two days after launch.
By now, you know NASA finally sent its much-delayed uncrewed Artemis I mission into space for a trip around the moon. Perhaps you’ve seen some of Orion’s views of our blue planet. I saw those, too, and I marveled at them, but this new photo struck me a different way. I paused. I traced the abstract swirls of clouds. I stared into the dark of space. I didn’t feel small. I felt as expansive as the universe.
Orion captured the view using a navigation camera, one of a bevy of cameras it has on board. It’s not the highest-resolution photo of Earth. It’s not the most colorful. It’s not the fanciest, and therein lies its beauty. It communicates our place in the universe the way photographer Robert Frank captured the culture of America. It’s a casual snapshot, any given moment on any given day.
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I don’t know if we’re alone in the cosmos. I don’t think we are. The only way we’ll find out is by reaching out beyond our world. The Artemis era has begun, but it’s not just about the moon. It’s not even just about humans reaching Mars some day. It’s about seeing ourselves as local, as global, as universal.
It’s a simple black and white photo of Earth seen from a way-finding camera on board a spaceship. I’m there somewhere, invisible but present. Everyone I have ever loved and will ever love is there. We are small. We are everything.