The real founders of Earth Day were not the politicians who rode the wave of environmental consciousness that swept the public in the late 60s and early 70s to establish the logistics of the organization. Nor was it the United Nations or peace and environmental activists who jumped on board the train when it became apparent that people across the world were demanding action to solve the environmental problems of the day.
No, it was the scientists, engineers, and courageous astronauts who took us to the Moon. For it was as a result of their actions, photographs, and stories that our perspectives of our small planet changed forever. Indeed, their most important legacy may very well be how their work was a catalyst for a profound philosophical transformation, without which Earth Day and most of the modern environmental movement, would never have taken off.
Yes, as a former aerospace engineer and space exploration enthusiast, I admit that I am biased. But consider the history for yourself:
It wasn’t long after the start of the space race that we started to see a new appreciation for the Earth on the part of many of the astronauts. Take, for example, the following quote from Apollo 14 lunar module pilot Edgar Mitchell, where he describes Earth’s rise over the Moon:
“Suddenly, from behind the rim of the moon, in long, slow-motion moments of immense majesty, there emerges a sparkling blue and white jewel – a light, delicate sky-blue sphere laced with slowly swirling veils of white, rising gradually like a small pearl in a thick sea of black mystery… It takes more than a moment to fully realize this is Earth… home.”
Mitchell was not unique among the astronauts. Consider what Apollo 15 Commander Dave Scott said:
“It truly is an oasis, and we don’t take very good care of it. And I think the elevation of that awareness is a real contribution to, you know, saving the earth, if you will.”
Or how about Alan Shepard, the first American in space and the Commander of Apollo 14:
“I realized up there that our planet is not infinite. It’s fragile. That may not be obvious to a lot of folks, and it’s tough that people are fighting each other here on Earth instead of trying to get together and live on this planet. We look pretty vulnerable in the darkness of space.”
Apollo 15 Lunar Module Pilot, Jim Irwin’s quote is especially meaningful and beautiful:
“The earth reminded us of a Christmas tree ornament hanging in the blackness of space. As we got farther and farther away, it diminished in size. Finally, it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that, if you touched it with a finger, it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of God and the love of God.”
I met Colonel Irwin and spoke with him shortly before he passed away in 1991. He even signed a photograph of him saluting the flag on the Moon (right) for me, one of my most cherished possessions. He was amazing.
Even those of us who have never traveled in space have been deeply affected by these scenes – we, too, have seen the Earth with new eyes. A strong reaction to seeing the Earth like this had actually been predicted as early as 1948. In that year, the British astronomer, Fred Hoyle had said:
“Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from the outside, is available…a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.”
This is indeed what has happened. The view of the Earth, as seen from part way to the Moon, acted as a catalytic symbol changing the way we think about our world. With one glance, you can see that our planet is not only amazingly beautiful but that all of the elements in our biosphere are interconnected. It’s certainly no coincidence that within two years of the 1968 Apollo 8 flight that gave us our first views of Earthrise over the Moon, we saw the formation of Environment Canada, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Greenpeace, as well as the first worldwide Earth Day.
Seeing our small, fragile planet against the blackness of space, forever changed our attitudes toward what is and is not acceptable behavior in today’s world. The well-known whole Earth photo taken by Apollo 17 astronaut Ronald Evans is now considered to be the most important image of the twentieth century. From this point of view, the space age opened none too soon.
And many of these space pioneers would be appalled to know what Earth Day and, indeed, the whole environmental movement has become. After all, they were firmly rooted in reality and prided themselves on solving real-world problems with real-world data. Yet today’s Earth Day has been overridden by climate alarmism — the first action item on the official Earth Day 2023 Web site is an invitation to sign an open letter pushing “climate literacy.” When we visit their home page, we are greeted with images of spinning wind turbines (below), one of the most environmentally destructive energy sources on the planet, to supposedly stop climate change, which is total fiction, of course.
Many of our space heroes know that the climate scare is a mistake. Included in the long list of highly qualified people who are skeptical of the climate scare are Apollo 11 astronaut Dr. Buzz Aldrin, and at least five other Apollo astronauts.
Specifically, on April 10, 2012, 49 former NASA scientists and astronauts sent a letter to then-NASA Administrator Charles Bolden criticizing the agency for advocating a high degree of certainty that man-made carbon dioxide is a major cause of climate change while ignoring empirical evidence that calls the theory into question. Signing the open letter were Walter Cunningham (Apollo 7 astronaut), Charles Duke (Apollo 16), Richard Gordon (Apollo 12), Dr. Harrison (Jack) Schmitt (the only scientist to yet walk on the Moon on Apollo 17), Al Worden (Apollo 15) as well as Apollo Flight Directors, and former Directors of Johnson Space Center, Dr. Christopher Craft and Gerald C. Griffin. Here are selected excerpts from their letter:
- “The unbridled advocacy of CO2 being the major cause of climate change is unbecoming of NASA’s history of making an objective assessment of all available scientific data prior to making decisions or public statements.”
- “We believe the claims by NASA and GISS, that man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated.”
- “We request that NASA refrain from including unproven and unsupported remarks in its future releases and websites on this subject.”
And even today, The Climate Right Stuff, a group of retired and highly experienced space engineers and scientists who conducted an objective, independent assessment of the science supposedly backing the climate scare, continues to speak out against climate alarmism. As I described in my three-part series (see part 1, part 2, part 3) about this outstanding organization, their moto, which today’s Earth Day activists would be well advised to follow, is:
“In God we trust; all others bring data.”
No one could rationally say that America’s Apollo astronauts, scientists, and engineers were unconcerned about the environment. Indeed, the first humans to visit the Moon experienced truly remarkable epiphanies about how special our home planet actually is. It is about time real environmentalists followed the advice of the philosophical founders of their movement and kicked climate activists off the stage.