Looking down and around, not up and away
by Ketan Alder
Suitable for Key Stage 4/5
To consider how we can appreciate space while caring for each other on Earth.
Preparation and materials
- None required.
- Ask the students, ‘Have you ever looked up at the stars and wondered what is out there? Do you feel like your life is intimately connected to Earth?’
Pause to allow time for thought.
- Ask the students, ‘How could you explore the wonder of space without going there?’
Allow time for discussion with a partner or small group if possible.
- Explain that we can explore space from Earth in various ways. We could become stargazers and learn about the stars that we can observe in the night sky. We could keep a lunar diary over the course of a month, drawing the shapes of the moon. We could create cartoons that show solar eclipses, research galaxies online and so on.
- In 1957, the first space satellite, Sputnik 1, was launched. Many regarded this achievement as an occasion for pride and awe at what humans can do. Others saw this kind of technological development as something different: they regarded it as a challenge to human existence, stemming from an arrogance that could lead to problems in the future.
- Nowadays, there are several powerful billionaires who have shown an interest in exploring space for commercial reasons. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has set up Blue Origin; Richard Branson owns Virgin Galactic; and Elon Musk, the owner of X (formerly Twitter) and co-founder of Tesla, has set up SpaceX with the aim of colonizing Mars. There is a potentially dizzying amount of money to be made from space tourism.
- But what does space exploration mean for humans? Is it a case of discarding an old home and finding our future in space, or is there something deeper? Could humanity be falling victim to arrogance that could lead to disaster?
When we think about this, we could start by asking ourselves whether we want to live on other planets without animals, plants and familiar forms of life. Perhaps it is a fantasy to think that we can live without the millions of years of evolutionary history that have fine-tuned our world.
- Although technological advances such as space travel are mind-boggling, some people believe that exploring space is an excuse to avoid looking after Earth. The planet faces many challenges today in terms of its health and the happiness of those who live on it. Perhaps fantasies about space exploration provide a distraction from major issues such as climate change, diverting us from spending the time that we need to repair this planet and its communities.
- Human life is deeply connected to Earth. Rather than being a prison, Earth is somewhere that we have an intimate relationship with. In the Bible, we are told about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden - there is nudity, forbidden fruit, snakes, death and sin.
Interestingly, Adam’s name comes from the Hebrew word adamah, meaning ‘soil’ or ‘earth’. The relationship between humans and the soil may not sound very interesting, but one of the fascinating aspects of the story is how the two interact.
- According to a recent study by an American scientific academy, more than half of Earth’s species live in the soil. There is also plenty of life above ground, but when these things die, they usually enter the soil and become the basis for new life.
- Life on Earth is profoundly connected to the soil - we can’t live without it. When we take care of the soil - for example, through sustainable farming - we do important work: cleaning our water, looking after animal and plant life, and keeping carbon in the soil rather than releasing it into our atmosphere.
This work is critical for addressing climate change on Earth.
- Just as the soil and our planet fit closely together, so must humans and our relationships. We need to nurture our relationships if they are to grow strong and healthy, celebrating and rewarding caring behaviour.
So, when we think about humanity’s future, perhaps we should look down and around, rather than up and away.
Time for reflection
During this assembly, we’ve been considering how space exploration fits into how we live on Earth. We can experience the vastness of the sky above while caring about one another on Earth.
So, rather than considering how we can escape Earth and improve humans through space travel, let’s reflect on what we can do every day to show care for our earthly home and one another.
Pause to allow time for thought.
Please teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
To be filled with awe and contemplation,
And recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature
As we journey towards your infinite light.