UpFront 11/21

In an article prior to the launch of his new TV series, Universe, Professor Brian Cox said he would like to launch Boris Johnson into space. It was the sort of comment that would generally be pounced upon by journalists, at least until they saw the rest of the sentence: ‘…and return him safely to Earth.’ Professor Cox’s motivation for launching the Prime Minister into space turns out to be less due to frustration or anger with his track record as a politician, but rather more as a way to offer a lesson to the many world leaders that make decisions about the future of our planet. He was talking about the profound effect of seeing the earth from space and the comments he had heard from astronauts that had experienced it. The more people who experience it, he said, ‘the more we will come to value our planet and our fellow human beings, and our civilisation.’ He suggested making it compulsory for anyone who wants to run a country to go to space. Perhaps a bit like a world leader visiting the site of a disaster—but in this case an impending disaster. ‘Go up there, look at the planet that you are responsible for, look at it in the cosmic context, the context in which it sits, and then come back and make your choices.’ Many of those who saw artist Luke Jerram’s ‘Gaia’ installation at this year’s Inside Our Dorset Festival would probably get that point. Sitting below an art installation showing how the earth looks from space was inspiring, to actually experience the real thing must have a huge impact. However, at current rates, ($400,000 to $500,000 according to Professor Cox), it might be out of reach for most of us, but that doesn’t mean the sentiment isn’t still inspirational. When 90-year-old William Shatner of Star Trek fame returned from a Jeff Bezos-sponsored trip, he was overwhelmed. He hugged the Amazon boss and said: ‘What you have given me is the most profound experience I can imagine.’ His emotion was palpable. But a point he made many times afterward was just how thin the line is between earth and space and the fragility of our planet. He called it ‘this little tiny blue skin’ and said we all need a wake-up call to the importance of protecting it. Space tourism may not be popular with everybody, but Shatner’s reaction and his sentiment will have reached a lot of people.