William Shatner, Joe Manchin, and a Rare Trip to Space and Back

October 27, 2021 | 3:33 pm
the Milky Way, from Earth: beautiful blue and black space, punctuated by starsOld Codger Jim/Flickr
Brenda Ekwurzel
Senior Climate Scientist, Director of Climate Science

At certain moments in life, we are pulled out of our immediate concerns and propelled into a wider perspective. Even if we anticipate and plan for it, a personal experience can take our breath away and inspire awe.

Earth atmosphere. Source: ESA/NASA/Tim Peake

William Shatner’s space view that profoundly changed his perspective 

Watch the New Shepard Mission NS-18 Webcast video as William Shatner describes his experience moments after the hatch door opened. Searching for words to describe his brief experience in space, his attention was focused on a specific aspect: the moment when shooting through the incredible blue of the Earth’s atmosphere ended with the sudden emergence into the blackness of space. No longer an actor who played Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek series, but a human sharing a rare experience. “Everyone in the world needs to see this.” “It’s so thin…” “Suddenly you’re through the blue and you’re into black.” “What you see down there is light and that’s the difference.” “…is the most profound experience I can imagine.”

Astronauts have similarly described over the decades being changed by space flight. Most point to the moments when they look at Earth.  

NASA’s Landsat image of WV
NASA’s Landsat GeoCover 2000 satellite image including outline of West Virginia.  

Senator Joe Manchin’s view from space

What if Senator Manchin were given the opportunity to see his hometown, his state, from space? Toward the east he would see the ridge and valley region with ancient folded sedimentary rocks, trees and leaves bursting with fall colors. Looking in the direction of his hometown he would see the gently westward dipping plateau carved by larger rivers and portions shaped by mining

Fall foliage. Source: WV.gov

He likely would think about the activities that must be going on while looking down from space: towboat crews driving barges along the river carrying their heavy loads and floating by homes, schools and community gathering places along the river floodplains; vessels parked where transfers of barge loads to and from the river occur; train crews hauling heavy loads along valleys, through mountain tunnels and over trestle bridges; barges and trains transporting valuable WV natural resources to manufacturing facilities along the rivers and train tracks.

Google 2021 Image of coal barges on the Maidsville WV side of the Monongahela River a few miles downriver from Morgantown WV

Would Senator Manchin have that moment in space where he sees the common shared home for all life on this planet with a thin atmosphere, an atmosphere trapping more and more heat? Bringing warming that increases the risk for West Virginia floods that can disrupt river transport, wash out bridges, and damage roads. Would Senator Manchin gain perspective and evoke the legacy of his current negotiations in Congress? Would he see the future that would benefit his constituents of West Virginia if he voted to keep the climate solution portions of the Build Back Better Act?

Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut who walked on the moon, described what he felt when he saw the Earth: “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it.  From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that…”

Earthrise from the moon, 1968. Photo credit: NASA

They say all politics is local.  In this case, Senator Manchin’s vote to keep climate solutions in the Build Back Better Act would benefit local and global citizens alike.