Space Science and Technology - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:11 pm on 15th July 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench 8:11 pm, 15th July 2019

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, for tabling the debate. As noble Lords know, we circled the moon before we landed on it, and on Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 became the first manned spacecraft to leave the earth’s orbit. As the astronauts completed their circle of the moon, they saw in front of them an astounding sight: the exquisite blue sphere hanging in the blackness of space. They photographed it and the result was the image known as “Earthrise”. It is without a doubt one of the most profound events in the history of human culture and, without a doubt, an amazing photograph. For the first time we saw ourselves from a distance. Our earth, our home, in its surrounding dark emptiness, seemed not only infinitely beautiful but infinitely fragile and precious.

The photograph graced the cover of James Lovelock’s groundbreaking work Gaia. Lovelock showed us for the first time that everything on earth is connected, and that it is regulated for its own good and thus for our good as well. Rainforests, oceans and the soil beneath our feet ensure that that we have air to breathe, food to eat and natural resources from which to thrive. Initially, Lovelock’s view was pilloried and thought a hippy interpretation of the photograph, but now it is accepted science. “Earthrise” spurred many people to think differently. In 1970, the United States set up the Environment Protection Agency and in 1971 both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth were founded. Our own Department of the Environment followed in 1972.

Later in his life, William Anders, the astronaut who took the photograph, said:

“This is the only home we have and yet we're busy shooting at each other, threatening nuclear war and wearing suicide vests”.

It took our leaving the planet to fully understand how awesome and vulnerable it is. Sadly, we are still not learning the lesson. Some 50 years ago, the brilliance of humanity rose to the challenge laid down by President Kennedy when he said that man will go to the moon. We succeeded, triumphantly, so 50 years on, let us put that combined brilliance to work again to save the very precious world that we are all lucky enough to inhabit.