Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there's nothing I can do
- from "Space Oddity" by David Bowie
It's amazing what we continue to learn from NASA's space program. Eileen Collins, commander of the latest Discovery shuttle mission, took time out of her busy schedule of wasting taxpayer dollars to make a few remarks on the condition of Earth as it appears from an altitude of 220 miles.
Commander, what would you like to say to those of us who will never see things from your point of view? Can you really see the Great Wall of China from that height?
"We would like to see, from the astronauts' point of view, people take good care of the Earth and replace the resources that have been used."
Right. We'll start pumping oil back into the ground just as soon as you rocket scientists invent a car that runs on hugs and happy thoughts.
Why is it we can see the stars down here at night, but can't see any in the pictures sent back from the shuttle? Is it the lighting in space? The camera setting? Or does it have something to do with Earth's atmosphere?
"The atmosphere almost looks like an eggshell on an egg, it's so very thin. We know that we don't have much air, we need to protect what we have."
Um, okay. As long as there are plants and algae, I don't think that will be a problem. You've heard of a process called photosynthesis, right? Of course you have. You have two master's degrees.
Look, if you don't have any interesting observations or scientific tidbits to share, how about some eloquent quote about the awesomeness of space exploration--you know, kind of like Neil Armstrong when he stepped onto the moon?
"Sometimes you can see how there is erosion, and you can see how there is deforestation. It's very widespread in some parts of the world."
Yeah. I realize that we're down here and you're up there, and perhaps we can't see the deforestation for the lack of trees, but do you see those big brown patches? Those are called deserts. And that really big white one? That's Antarctica and, since it receives less than two inches of precipitation a year, it is also technically a desert. In fact, it's the world's largest desert, spanning an entire continent. Deserts are notorious for their lack of forests.
Like Bowie's Major Tom, there really is nothing these astronauts can do except talk about what the Earth looks like from a tin can floating in space. And now that the shuttle has become a celestial soapbox for environmentalist ramblings that have no basis in scientific fact, perhaps it's time to ground it permanently.
Unless, of course, something interesting comes along--like watching paint dry in zero gravity.