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For thousands of years, we have struggled to rise above the surface of the Earth.
2018 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the moment three human beings escaped the pull of the Earth's gravitational field for the first time, and saw what no one had ever seen before, the Earth as a sphere falling through the empty darkness of space. Even today only 24 people have had that experience: the Apollo astronauts who went on the nine manned missions to the moon that took place between 1968 and 1972.
The astronauts returned with photographic evidence that the Earth was beautiful, seemingly fragile and different from any other heavenly body. The photographs known as Earthrise, taken during the first manned mission, and The Blue Marble, taken during the last mission, have become two of the most reproduced and most influential images of all time. They were taken almost as an afterthought and inspired a whole generation to think about our responsibility for this tiny oasis in space.
In his remarkably wide-ranging book, Christopher Potter writes of the early heroic days of aviation and of the often-blemished visionaries who inspired the journey into space: Charles Lindbergh, Robert Goddard and Wernher von Braum.
Now more than ever the need to see ourselves from an outside-perspective is urgent. Can we learn to see ourselves for what we truly are: inhabitants of a world without borders? The Earth Gazers is a timely and entrancingly written exploration of the ways in which this new perspective on ourselves did indeed change us, and of how the opportunity for truly radical change was thwarted.
Christopher Potter was publisher and managing director at the independent publishing house Fourth Estate. He is the author of You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe and How to Make a Human Being: A Body of Evidence.