It is almost common knowledge that The Great Wall of China is the only man-made object visible from outer space. Maybe you’ve even heard that the pyramids of Egypt belong to that distinction. But, this fact is a misnomer. This isn’t to say that these objects cannot be seen, but the contrary: plenty of other sites and structures, man-man or otherwise, can be seen from outside the Earth’s atmosphere. (We can thank ever-growing photographic technologies for this.) However, so as to not ruin the mythos surrounding The Great Wall, we should point out that it remains the only man-made object capable of being seen from space with the naked eye. With basic visual enhancements any landmark on Earth can be seen.
So, why then, when in orbit around our little blue planet, would astronaut Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger take the time to look for her Fort Collins home around Warren Lake? Becoming an astronaut is no small feat, after all, with the ultimate goal to leave Earth in order to see and experience space with a more discerning eye, to explore other worlds. Sure, it could be argued that you’re there, and it’s neat to see things from a different angle, so why not? Right? But, when you have the option to see anywhere else – literally, anywhere else – it puts the importance of home in perspective. Seeing The Great Wall from space, I would argue, could be shrugged off. It’s like a vacation: you visit, you take some pictures, and then you post them on your Facebook so people can ooh and ahh. After that it’s all over.
Seeing your home from space, however, would take on a different meaning. While seeing the Earth from space may give a sense of insignificance to our world as a whole, being able to spot one’s specific home from space would have the opposite effect. Because, down here we know the big stuff: The Great Wall, the pyramids, the Sears Tower. They’re the big guys. Juxtaposed against such structures we are all small. But, from space, everything is dwarfed. Looking down from the heavens, suddenly our home shares a stage with those big guys. So, rather than significance dissolving, significance is added because we now match up evenly against those things which may have, on the ground, made us feel inconsequential. We are, in a sense, brought to a higher level. Unlike seeing The Great Wall – which I will argue can only be interesting because it is “The Great Wall” – we now see the things to which we have an emotional tie. We see our homes, we see the places we hung out in high school, and through that we see ourselves. We suddenly have the perspective to see our place in the world, because quite literally we are able to see how we fit.
If you don’t think so, consider this: orbiting around the Earth 238 times in just 15 days, while travelling over 6 million miles of the cosmos, with the vastness of the unknown surrounding her, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger took the time to spot her home town. While I don’t know exactly what that says about the proverbial “Big Picture,” it certainly says something about the importance of home, and adds significance to where we come from. And we all come from somewhere… even Fort Collins, Colorado.