National Geographic : 2018 Mar
SAMANTHA CRISTOFORETTI ITALIAN ALPS (Previous spread) FOR THE BULK OF HUMAN HISTORY, IT’S BEEN IMPOSSIBLE TO PUT EARTH IN COSMIC PERSPECTIVE. Bound by gravity and biology, we can’t easily step outside it, above it, or away from it. For most of us, Earth is inescapably larger than life. Even now, after nearly six decades of human spaceflight, precious few people have rocketed into orbit and seen the sun peeking out from behind that curved horizon. Since 1961, a mere 556 people have had this rarefied experience. Fewer, just 24, have watched Earth shrink in the distance, growing smaller and smaller un- til it was no larger than the face of a wristwatch. And only six have been completely alone be- hind the far side of the moon, cut off from a view of our planet as they sailed in an endlessly deep, star-studded sea. The Italian astronaut holds the record for the second longest uninterrupted space flight by a woman, having spent 199 days on the International Space Station in 2015. (NASA’s Peggy Whitson, on the cover, topped that record by almost a hundred days in 2017.) The longer she was in orbit, Cristoforetti says, the more her percep tion of humanity’s time on Earth evolved. When the massive geologic forces that have sculpted the planet are visible at a glance, the eons in which we crafted pyramids and sky scrapers become nearly indistinguishable. It’s as if, from her vantage point, all our constructed monu ments arose overnight. “You’ve got this planet beneath you, and a lot of what you see, especially during the day, does not necessari- ly point to a human presence. If you look at it on a geologic timescale, it’s almost like we are this flimsy presence, and we really have to stick together as a human family to make sure we are a permanent presence on this planet and not just this blink of an eye.” WATCH ON NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Take a thrilling tour of one of the universe’s most peculiar places—Earth—in the 10-part event series One Strange Rock, airing Mondays at 9/8c starting March 26. PHOTO (ABOVE): NASA. ASTRONAUTS’ QUOTES HAVE BEEN EDITED FOR LENGTH AND CLARITY.