Very few people have seen Earth from space — fewer, in fact, than 600 people from a planet that’s home to some 7.6 billion. And of that elite group of astronauts, all would agree that beholding the planet from space is one of the greatest spectacles of their lives — if not the greatest. It’s a rare and awe-inspiring perspective of our world, and for many astronauts, the sight was enough to change how they saw our planet and all that lives upon it.
“We came all this way to explore the moon,” NASA astronaut Bill Anders once said, “and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.” This sentiment has been echoed by many people who have gone to space and seen from afar what Carl Sagan called our “pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.” The following quotes from astronauts and cosmonauts are a beautiful and sometimes sobering meditation on our only home: the amazing planet Earth.
Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it.
— Yuri Gagarin, first human to go to space
The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone. Our home that must be defended like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word “round” meant until I saw Earth from space.
— Aleksei Leonov, Russian cosmonaut and first person to conduct a spacewalk
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.
— Alan Shepard, first American to go to space
It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.
– Neil Armstrong, first person to walk on the moon
From the distance of the moon, Earth was four times the size of a full moon seen from Earth. It was a brilliant jewel in the black velvet sky. Yet it was still at a great distance, considering the challenges of the voyage home.
— Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 astronaut and second person to walk on the moon
Oddly enough, the overriding sensation I got looking at the Earth was: My God, that little thing is so fragile out there.
— Mike Collins, Apollo 11 astronaut
A Chinese tale tells of some men sent to harm a young girl who, upon seeing her beauty, become her protectors rather than her violators. That's how I felt seeing the Earth for the first time. I could not help but love and cherish her.
— Taylor Wang, Chinese American scientist and first person of Chinese origin to go to space
I thought at one point, if you could be up in heaven, this is how you would see the planet. And then I dwelled on that and said, no, it’s more beautiful than that. This is what heaven must look like. I think of our planet as a paradise. We are very lucky to be here.
— Mike Massimino, NASA astronaut
Every single part of the Earth reacts with every other part. It’s one thing. Every little animal is important in that ecosystem. [Seeing the Earth] makes you realize that, and makes you want to be a little more proactive in keeping it that way. If I could get every Earthling to do one circle of the Earth, I think things would run a little differently.
– Karen Nyberg, NASA astronaut
As we got farther and farther away [the Earth] 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.
– James B. Irwin, NASA astronaut
After an orange cloud — formed as a result of a dust storm over the Sahara and caught up by air currents — reached the Philippines and settled there with rain, I understood that we are all sailing in the same boat.
― Vladimir Kovalyov, Russian cosmonaut
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.
— Edgar Mitchell, NASA astronaut
We really have the most beautiful planet in our solar system. None other can sustain life like we know it. None other has blue water and white clouds covering colorful landmasses filled with thriving, beautiful, living things like human beings.
— Sunita Williams, NASA astronaut
For those who have seen the Earth from space, and for the hundreds and perhaps thousands more who will, the experience most certainly changes your perspective. The things that we share in our world are far more valuable than those which divide us.
— Donald Williams, NASA astronaut
I had that cognitive shift, that moment of, “Oh my god, we’re all connected. Oh my god, the planet is so beautiful. Oh my god, what can I do to make it better when I get home?” And in coming home, the things that bothered you? They don’t bother you.
— Leland D. Melvin, NASA astronaut
Photo credit: fStop Images - Caspar Benson/ via Getty Images