We all live under the same sky, but have you ever wondered what humanity could achieve and the challenges we could overcome if we acted as one?
THE ORBITAL PERSPECTIVE – We all have moments of clarity in our lives where something shifts and clicks into place – a cognitive shift. For most astronauts it’s when they perform their first extra vehicular space walk or first clamp their feet into the end of the robotic arm outside the International Space Station (ISS) and perform a manoeuvre called the Windshield Wiper which takes them in a slow, long arc above the space station and back.
When they return to Earth they then effuse about how their experience, of being in the vacuum of space and looking back at their home planet as it hangs seemingly motionless against the darkness, made time stand still and flooded them with emotion and awareness. They also recollect that, as they looked down at the Earth, this paradise-like, fragile oasis that’s protected life against the harshness of space for billions of years, they’re overcome by sadness after the reality that in spite of the Earth’s overwhelming beauty billions of people still go to bed at night hungry, live in poverty, and experience inequality and social injustice every day.
Seeing Earth from this vantage point gives them a unique perspective, one that’s come to be known as the Overview Effect or the Orbital Perspective. It’s the undeniable realisation that, like it or not and for better or worse, we are all bound together on this planet, travelling through the void of space on our small, fragile blue dot – the same blue dot that also represents a beacon of hope that against all the tremendous odds all of us exist in spite of, and against, the infinite black backdrop of the universal nothingness, and that therefore that nothing is impossible.
Today many of us wonder what humanity could really achieve together if we all had this same Orbital Perspective, and whether it could help propel us all onto a more peaceful, safe, and prosperous path.
To realise this ambition though the first step in our journey together must be prioritising the long term view over the short term view that we have today that, as we see all too clearly every day whether it be in the form of the fight against climate change, or preparing people for the jobs of tomorrow, all too often prioritises today at the expense of tomorrow with the inevitable result being that we solve neither. That said though, we also have to be realistic and ensure that our long term objectives to solve the world’s greatest challenges are inclusive and sustainable, and our collaborations with one another are consistent, fair, and open.
As astronauts look back at our cradle in the dark from their orbital perspective they also say that the absence of borders, artificial human borders at least, hammers home the point that we are all one people on one planet even more. Then, thinking about the next fifty years they imagine a world where people and organisations set aside their differences and their destructive competitive inclinations, such as striving to maximise economic growth at all cost, or pillaging society for the personal gain of a few, and instead work together toward universal common goals.
For almost all of human history the vast majority of people believed that it was impossible to fly to the Moon simply because it had never been done before. But, in spite of that, human ingenuity and human determination proved that the impossible was possible.
Today, the majority of people still believe that it is impossible to solve many of the world’s greatest challenges. That it is impossible, for instance, to solve climate change, or achieve zero famine or zero poverty, or realise a world where everyone has access to quality education and healthcare – in spite of mounting proof of the contrary. But, if we all embraced the same exponential mindset and practices that got us to the Moon and back, and that built the ISS, our first home in the heavens, then just imagine what we could achieve together as a society and the world we could build.