The Earth. Home. Blue planet hanging in space, covered in perfect white blankets of cloud, home of every human who ever lived, every person you know and love, every work of art ever conceived.
Imagine seeing it through the viewport of a spacecraft, like the astronauts of Apollo 8 did, the first humans ever to see an Earthrise above the horizon of the Moon.
Imagine it growing larger in the window, as Jim Lovell said on Apollo 13. What was a blue marble you could cover with your thumb is now almost filling your entire field of view, an achingly beautiful panorama of deep blue oceans, plush green lands, ice and desert, mountains and canyons.
Now imagine that it’s going to kill you in the next 20 minutes and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Your spacecraft is damaged, or you’re coming in to steep, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you’re going to burn up in the atmosphere, you’re caught inside the gravitational well created by Earth’s huge mass and it is relentless.
Even Houston has finally fallen silent, they know only too well that you have a problem. They also know that no amount of engineering ingenuity on the ground can help you now. You’ve said your hurried goodbyes and you’ve gone through the checklists, even though there isn’t much point.
“Even Houston has finally fallen silent, they know only too well that you have a problem.”
So you look out at the largest object your existence has encountered, much too large for your mind to comprehend, even though you’re one of the select few who’ve seen it from a distance. When you look towards the horizon you can see the thin band of the Earth’s atmosphere, impossibly tiny compared to the size of the planet. Everything, all life, exists inside that thin band of air.
You feel sadness, loss, incomprehension. Your mind wanders to the first day of spring, the sound of laughter, the feeling of waves lapping against your feet. Your heart bursts with love, more intense and more laden with sorrow than anything you have ever felt. You stare at the blue oasis in the empty blackness and feel lonely beyond belief.
Suddenly you’re pulled back in your seat, as you hit the top of the atmosphere and it starts to slow you down. You know this is it. Once you fall just a little deeper the friction from the oncoming storm of air against the hull of your spacecraft will unleash a fury that your ship cannot withstand. You bargain, you plead, you howl in rage as the gees build up, rapidly now.
“You bargain, you plead, you howl in rage as the gees build up, rapidly now.”
The windows are covered in flickering gold, the soothing blue of home replaced by an eerie glow of angry ions building up towards a crescendo. Everything falls quiet and you start to black out as the gees mount beyond your tolerance. You never feel the sudden stab of searing hot gas that penetrates you, moments before everything breaks apart.
Minutes later the fury has abated and a few remaining parts of your spacecraft are tumbling through the air, towards the sea below. There are no traces of you, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.