Like Sigmund Jähn, those who have gone into space have come back with a changed perspective and reverence for the planet Earth.

Gone are the political boundaries. Gone are the boundaries between nations. We are all one people and each is responsible for maintaining Earth’s delicate and fragile balance. We are her stewards and must take care of her for future generations.

Our perspective on Earth can be very narrow. We may not see the effects of one tree that is cut down. Only by expanding our perspective can we see entire rain forests that have been devastated. Humans can destroy in a matter of days that which nature took thousands of years to create. We might ask what harm can one factory do to the environment by not meeting proper pollution controls. The effect from space is obvious. Pictures taken by Gemini astronauts almost 30 years ago are much clearer than those taken by space shuttle astronauts today.

Sunset Over the Sahara Desert

sunset spaceThis picture of a sunset over the Sahara Desert was taken by the space shuttle crew when the shuttle was at a position over the Sudan near the Red Sea coast. Space shuttle crews see a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes as they circle the Earth at 27,300 kilometers (17,000 miles) per hour, crossing the surface at 6.4 kilometers (4 miles) per second. This picture illustrates the clearly defined bands of color as the sun rises and shines through the atmosphere.

Phytoplankton Bloom, Namibia

VSS00098 spaceA flash of blue and green lit the waters off Namibia in early November 2007 as a phytoplankton bloom grew and faded in the Atlantic Ocean. The bloom stretches from north to south along hundreds of miles, although it is brightest in the center of this image. Such blooms are common in the coastal waters off southwest Africa where cold, nutrient-rich currents sweep north from Antarctica and interact with the coastal shelf. At the same time, the easterly trade winds push surface water away from the shore, allowing water from the ocean’s floor to rise to the surface, bringing with it iron and other material. The suffusion of nutrients from both the currents and upwelling water creates an environment where tiny surface-dwelling ocean plants thrive. Phytoplankton blooms are so abundant off Namibia that their death and decomposition often robs the water of dissolved oxygen. As the plants die, they sink to the ocean floor where bacteria consume them. There is so much plant material that the bacteria use all of the oxygen available in the water before they finish breaking down the plants, creating a dead-zone in the water where fish can’t survive. Anaerobic bacteria, which don’t require oxygen, take over in the decomposition process, releasing sulfur dioxide as a byproduct. The sulfur dioxide interacts with the ocean water to create solid sulfur and hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous gas, which eventually erupts to the surface, sometimes killing fish. Though no eruption is readily apparent in this image, hydrogen sulfide eruptions are often visible in satellite imagery because the solid sulfur colors the water a milky yellow-green.

Dust Plumes and Phytoplankton Bloom off Namibia

VSS00099North of the soft orange sands of the Namibia Desert, streamer of pale dust are streaming over Namibia´s Skeleton Coast in the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrophotometer (MODIS) from the Terra satellite on July 13, 2003. In the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, colorful swirls of blue and green suggest a bloom of tiny marine plants called phytoplankton.

West Fjords

westfjordsThe West Fjords are a series of peninsulas in northwestern Iceland. They represent less than one-eighth the country’s land area, but their jagged perimeter accounts for more than half of Iceland’s total coastline.

Radar Image of Mount Everest

everestThis is a radar image of Mount Everest and its surroundings, along the border of Nepal and Tibet. The peak of Mount Everest, the highest elevation on Earth at 8,848 meters (29,030 feet), can be seen near the center of each image. It shows an area approximately 70 kilometers by 38 kilometers (43 miles by 24 miles) that is centered at 28.0 degrees north latitude and 86.9 degrees east longitude. North is toward the upper left. Many features of the Himalayan terrain are visible in the image. Snow covered areas appear bright blue in the image which was taken in early spring and shows deep snow cover. The curving and branching features seen are glaciers. Radar is sensitive to characteristics of the glacier surfaces that are not detected by conventional photography, such as the ice roughness, water content and stratification. For this reason, the glaciers show a variety of colors (blue, purple, red, yellow, white) but only appear as gray or white in an optical photograph.

Lost City of Ubar, Southern Oman, Arabian Peninsula

ubarThis is a radar image of the region around the site of the lost city of Ubar in southern Oman, on the Arabian Peninsula. The ancient city was discovered in 1992 with the aid of remote sensing data. Archeologists believe Ubar existed from about 2800 B.C. to about 300 A.D. and was a remote desert outpost where caravans were assembled for the transport of frankincense across the desert. The prominent, magenta colored area is a region of large sand dunes. The prominent green areas are rough limestone rocks, which form a rocky desert floor. A major wadi, or dry stream bed, runs across the middle of the image and is shown largely in white due to strong radar scattering.

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