GAIA SEES HERSELF
James Lovelock, in his seminal book ‘GAIA’ describes the event as the moment when Gaia at last saw herself in the mirror. It was December 1968 and the American Apollo 8 mission had seen human beings for the first time leave Earth orbit, travel to the moon and for the first pass around the back of the moon. They were the first humans to be cut off entirely from the rest of humanity. They were out of visual and radio contact. When they emerged from behind the moon on Christmas Eve, they radioed back to Earth the following message, given here courtesy of NASA’s transcript.
We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth
It was a moving moment, but on that same mission, and indeed on that same Christmas Eve, something even more profound was done in terms of humanity’s spiritual evolution and awakening. Astronaut William Anders took the first ever photograph of an earthrise. Nature photographer Galen Rowell declared it ‘the most influential environmental photograph ever taken’.
This was James Lovelock’s point. Gaia had seen herself, and at least as importantly, we as the inhabitants of Planet Earth had seen how precious and beautiful and potentially vulnerable was our planetary home. It was a profoundly spiritual moment, surely also a sacred moment in humanity’s long and too often troubled story. This precious jewel in space was the one home that we all shared. It was a call from the heavens to cherish that home and to at last cherish each other.
American astronaut Al Worden, who was the command module pilot on Apollo 15, spent 67 hours entirely alone as he orbited the moon whilst his fellow astronauts walked on the moon’s surface. After returning to earth he wrote a number of poems, feeling that the official debriefings had not done justice to his space experiences. He wrote of how free he was in the tiny space capsule as he gazed at the ‘cloudy frail earth’ on which myriad colours of the universe itself appeared to be focussed. ‘Earthbound no more, we travel afar, to see for ourselves just where we are.’