Maurizio Cheli has seen our planet from a different perspective. The charismatic astronaut has answered my questions on space, renewables and the environment.
Our planet is incredibly beautiful when observed from space. What astronauts immediately perceive however is its fragility and how human presence is altering the morphology of the earth’s surface.
Looking at the earth from space how did the view change over the years?
When you look at the first pictures of the earth from years back and compare them with those taken of the same location many years later, you very often can perceive with the naked eye the effects of human presence and how it has changed entire regions. Not always for the better. Lately this effect has become more and more pronounced. I think we as individuals should be more conscious of preserving our environment.
Can you see climate change from space?
What you can certainly observe are the effects of climate change on the surface of the earth. Inundation due to torrential rains, drought, and deforestation can easily be observed with the naked eye.
There is a growing need for more clean and reliable energy producing systems which have reduced impact effects on the atmosphere.
Do you have to save energy in a space shuttle, if yes, how?
Energy conservation is really a big topic when you are in space. Electrical energy is what keeps you alive in a very hostile environment. On the space station energy comes from solar panels while on the space shuttle we had to carry oxygen and hydrogen in tanks to feed the electrical fuel cells. We were extremely careful in the use of energy and we tried to conserve it because, should something unforeseen happen you never know when you will really need it!
What do you personally do in order to preserve the environment?
I try to do my best every day. You can reach very good macro results as the sum of individual behaviours. I of course close the faucet when water is not required or switch electricity off. We must think about the environment whatever we do – at home, at work, anytime you make a decision. It is a mindset, which must become an integral part of our everyday life.
“There is a growing need for more clean and reliable energy producing systems which have reduced impact effects on the atmosphere.”
How does it feel to fly in a space shuttle? What’s it like to be close to the sun?
You start shaking all over the place when the rockets ignite. At lift off the space shuttle weighs approximately 2500 tons and has about 3500 tons of thrust which are needed in order to propel it to orbital speed.
When you fly in low earth orbit, you are about 400 km from the surface of our planet. A bit closer to the sun but not that much closer! Nevertheless, when you are outside the atmosphere you can perceive the sun’s light and that of other stars much brighter.
I would like to fly to space as well, would you recommend it?
It would be really cold and also hot! When you are directly exposed to the sunlight, the surface temperature will be in the 100 degrees Celcius range while on the opposite when you are in the shade it could go down to approximately minus 100 degrees Celcius.
Your message to our readers:
Our planet is incredibly beautiful when observed from space. What astronauts immediately perceive however is its fragility and how human presence is altering the morphology of the earth’s surface, sometimes not for the better. Drought, pollution, deforestation are all concepts that from space will become images which are a thousand times more powerful than words can describe. In space we only had one vehicle and everyone on board was doing their best to take care of it. When you look down you see also another “vehicle” maybe a bit larger but also the only one we have. We should all do our best to preserve it for the sake of those who will come after us.
More info on Maurizio Cheli in this floating portrait by Nowness: