No Frames, No Boundaries

August 1974

Astronaut Russell Schweikart speaks about his transformative experience in outer space when a camera malfunctioned and he had an unscheduled moment to contemplate his home planet. During his “glimpse of the big picture” he reflected on the implications of humanity looking back on itself from the perspective of space, and his consciousness began to identify with the whole planet Earth.

Delivered at the first Lindisfarne Association conference.



Well, what shall we do this morning? I suppose the reason that a nice, down-to-earth astronaut like me is here in a far-out group like this is somehow to take an experience which man has now had. And I’ll—let me say, to start with, that I’d rather devote my energies this morning to what I see as that task, rather than to the task of trying to say “human” instead of “man” or whatever. And so, please, if you wish, interpret “man” as “mankind” or “humanity,” or whatever suits you. I really don’t mean it in the chauvinist sense.

Bill gave you some introduction yesterday as to what my background has been. This morning, what I’d like to do is take all of you on that trip with me, through that experience, because the experience itself has very little meaning if, in fact, it is an experience only for an individual or a small group of individuals, isolated from the rest of humanity. And so what I want to do this morning—just before we started, I was asked whether I had integrated that experience. I think that part of what this morning is all about is that process of integration. And it’s not my process, it’s our process. And so I want you to face that process this morning. And to do that we’ll have to go back a bit in history. And I don’t want to go back too far, but let me just go back to 1969 and paint the picture at that point. And let’s start from there.


In early 1969 I was preparing for my flight on Apollo 9. Apollo 9 was to be the first flight of the lunar module: the first time that we had taken that spacecraft off the ground, exposed it to that strange environment, and tried to see whether it was going to be ready to do the job. The setting was fairly interesting. In December of 1968, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders had circled the moon on Christmas Eve, and had read from Genesis and other parts of the Bible in a sense to sacramentalize that experience, and somehow to transmit what they were experiencing to everyone back on Earth—“the good, green Earth,” as Frank called it. And those are people that you know. They’re not heroes out of books, they’re next door neighbors. Their children and your children play, and they’re out there around the moon, and reading from the Bible in a way that you know means a great deal to them. And then, the next day, in the New York Times magazine section, comes one of those incredible insights that happens. And Archibald MacLeish writes an essay about the step that humanity has now taken. That somehow, things rather suddenly have changed, and man no longer sees himself in the same way that he saw himself before. That we see “the Earth now as it truly is: bright and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats.” And “men as riders on the Earth together, on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold, brothers who know now they are truly brothers.” And as you’re preparing to go up into space yourself, that’s a heavy trip. Because you realize that it’s not just a physical thing you’re doing, but that there’s a good bit more to it. And so, in all the other preparation that you make, you somehow incorporate that—a preparation for that experience—as well.


All this forms the background for that very, very busy foreground: the foreground that involves simulation after simulation, lying on your back in a simulator—sometimes in a space suit, sometimes not—looking at the hundreds of dials and switches and controls. Going through launch after launch, launch aborts, memorizing all those millions of procedures which are required to save your life and the life of your fellows if you run into this problem or that problem. You spend another hundred hours and more in practicing rendezvous: how to bring two cosmic vehicles together out there in space, which is no simple task. Incredible numbers of meetings: going over procedures, and detailed checklists, and techniques, what we call mission rules, thinking about everything that can possibly happen, everything that can break, can malfunction, can go wrong. And then—ahead of time, around the conference table—debating, arguing, deciding, documenting what you will do in each case. So that when the time comes, you don’t, then, in a time-critical life-or-death situation, have to go through that debate, but you carry out what you’ve already decided. Those are mission rules. Hour after hour in classrooms. You struggle to keep awake while the instructor is leading you through miles and miles of wiring diagrams so that you can understand all those systems that go into that spacecraft that you’ll have to fly and will keep you alive or will kill you if you don’t know what you’re doing. The stabilization and control system, communication system, guidance and navigation, waste management, environmental control, radar. On and on and on, all of those things that are part of that spacecraft. You take part in testing the spacecraft—not a simulated one now, but the real one. And those tests go on and on and on for years ahead of the flight itself for each spacecraft that goes up. You have systems verification tests, and integrated systems tests, and combined integrated systems tests, and altitude chamber tests, and countdown demonstration tests, and on and on. Until you feel as though the spacecraft is going to be worn out before it ever gets a chance to perform up there where it was designed to work.


And then finally comes the morning when you get up pre-dawn. Some people are just starting to come to work. Outside the window, three or four miles away—and if you’ve ever seen it, and Bill has seen that—you look out there to the north and there is this brilliant, white object standing vertically on its tail with search lights playing on it. And it’s somehow a white symbol sitting there on the beach, ready for its trip into space. And it’s the most awe-inspiring thing you’ve ever seen. It’s beautiful. And you go down the hall and have the last of what seems like an infinite series of physical examinations. You eat breakfast. You go down the hall in the other direction and put on your suit with the help of all those technicians. And you’ve done it a hundred times before, and it’s exactly the same except, somehow, this morning is a little bit different. And you go down the elevator with your two friends, and you get in a transfer van and you go out to the pad, and you go up that tower. And you look out across that countryside—the sea in one direction and the rest of the country in the other direction, and all your friends back there in the launch control center. And you realize that all those years and years of work—five years, six years, seven years—have gone for you into that moment. And it’s a touching thing.


And then you get in the spacecraft, and you jostle around, and you joke and play up in the white room as you’re getting in. You put signs on the back of the guy that helps you get in the spacecraft, so that everybody on the TV sees these ridiculous signs, you know? All those things. And then you lay there on your back, and they close the door, and you’re right back in a simulator. And you’ve done it a hundred times. And you lay there. During the countdown you may doze off and catch some sleep and wake up when you’re called on to take a reading or something. And then they count backward down to zero, and off you go.


And somehow it’s anti-climactic. It’s much more exciting from the beach, watching it and seeing all that smoke and fire, and feeling the power in that, and the concentration of energy that’s taking those three people up into space. But from the beach you feel that, and it causes your whole soul to oscillate with the throb of that sound. But you’re inside now. You’re going up. And everything looks very much like it does in a simulation. And you’ve done this a hundred times. The only difference is—at least in most cases—the difference is that it’s all working correctly. I mean, things aren’t going wrong, you know? The dials read what they should read instead of some joker outside throwing in a problem that you now have to handle.


And so you go into space, you’re lying on your back, and you can’t really see out until the launch escape tower gets jettisoned partway up. And then your window is clear. And as you pitch over, getting near horizontal, you catch the first glimpse out the window of the Earth from space. And it’s a beautiful sight. Are you scared in that process? No. And we can talk about that later, but that’s the answer. And so you look out the window and you make some comment—everybody has to make a comment when they see the Earth the first time. And you make your comment, and it’s logged—you know… duly noted. And then it’s to work, because you don’t have time to lollygag and look out the window and sight-see. Because you’re up there in March of 1969, and the goal is to put a man on the moon and get him back to the Earth before the end of the decade. And that’s coming up very fast. And there’s an incredible way to go. And so, on with the job.


And you get up there into orbit, you separate from the booster, you turn around to dock with the lunar module. The first time it’s ever been done. The first time the lunar module has flown. And you have a little problem doing that because a couple of the thrusters got shut off inadvertently during the launch, and you can’t understand why you can’t control the vehicle. So there’s a moment of panic. You madly go around checking switches, throwing switches, trying anything, until somebody notices a little flag that’s the wrong way, and you throw the right switches and you dock. You extract the LEM. And now you have to change orbits. And so you go through all those procedures. You take out the checklist, you read down the list, you leave nothing to memory. Everything is done step at a time. And you change the orbit. You light the main engine of the command module with the lunar module now on the nose for the first time, and you wonder whether maybe it’ll break apart—but it doesn’t. You were part of the design. You knew it wouldn’t, but now you know really. And so that first night in orbit you eat, you doff your pressure suits, stow them under the couches, put them away, climb into the sleeping bag, go to sleep.


Up the next morning. Eat breakfast for what it’s worth. Don the suits. And now you’ve got a full day of checkout again, because this time you’re making three major maneuvers that next day. And you’re testing the system that held together the first time you lit the engine, but now you’re not going to just light the engine, you’re going to play games. You’re going to wiggle the engine on the back to test and stress and strain that tunnel between the command module and the LEM to make sure it will really hold together in cases where it’s needed. And so you go out to the edges of the envelope, the design envelope, and see that it really works and holds together. And again, you know it will—but after you’ve done it, now you really know. It did. So you’ve had a busy day there. And again, it’s eat, doff the suits. You put on the suits because it might have broken apart, and it’s hard to live in a vacuum. So, just in case, you do it that way. But now you have that confidence. And so that night you go to bed with a bit more confidence.


And the next morning it’s the same process. And you haven’t quite gotten enough sleep. But it’s up and hurry up because you’re late, and go back to work, and eat fast, get the suits on. In fact, eat while you get the suits on. Open up that tunnel, and now you go into the lunar module for the first time. A brand new spacecraft, and no one’s been in it before. And it’s an amazing sight out the windows of that lunar module because they’re much bigger windows. But again, you know—don’t stop! You don’t have time for that! And so, out with the checklist and down through that day. And checking out all those same systems that you know so well from paper. But now you’re there. And now you’re throwing the switch, you’re not just watching, on paper, what would happen if you did throw that switch. And you check out the guidance and control system, and the navigation, and the communications, and the environmental control system, and on and on and on. And by the end of the day you’re ready for the grand finale of the day, where you’re going to actually light up the main engine on the bottom of the lunar module—the one that will take [two] of your friends down to the surface of the moon if everything goes right. And you have to demonstrate that that engine will work, and that you can also push both the lunar module and the command module around in case, one day, that has to be done—little knowing that, only the next year, that will have to be done to save the lives of three of your friends. And you light off that engine—and it works. And it works just the way it did in the simulator. And it’s amazing. But it did. And it’s just like it was in the simulator. And so now you go back in the command module and you’re a little behind again. And so hurry up and eat, and take the suits off, and get back to sleep again because the next day is a big day.


And up the next morning and back through the cycle. And today is the day you check out the portable life support system: the backpack that will be used to walk around the surface of the moon and allow people to live and operate and work and observe—to be human in that hostile environment; hostile to man. And so you put on the suit that morning, knowing that you’re going to go outside. And you get over in the lunar module, and you go through all of those procedures that you’ve done a hundred times on the ground, time after time. But now there’s no gravity and you’re floating, and things are so much easier when you’re floating. So you check out the portable life support system and everything seems to work, and you strap it on your back and you hook all the hoses and connections and wires and cables and antennas and all those things to your body. And now you transfer from the spacecraft which has become home to you, and you know it, and your umbilical to that mother is real, and it works and you’ve lived on it. And now you sever that and go onto this one that you’re carrying on your back. You let all of that precious oxygen flow out the door of the lunar module. And now you’re living in your own spaceship. And you go out the door.


And outside on the front porch of the LEM you watch the sunrise over the Pacific. And it’s an incredible sight. Beautiful, beautiful sight. But don’t look at it! Because you really don’t have time, you see? You’ve really got to get moving. That flight plan says you’re behind again. And you’ve only got 45 minutes out there to do all those things you have to do. And so you collect the thermal samples and you start taking the photographs. And then, a stroke of luck. Because, across the way in the command module where your friend is standing—also in his space suit; taking pictures of you while you take pictures of him—his camera jams. And so now he has to fix that camera. And so we have just a moment to think about what it is we’re doing. But then he gets it fixed and off we go again. And you’re back inside the spacecraft. And again, you know, you really need to get moving, and get everything back together again, and get everything taken care of and put away, and get the food eaten, and the suits off and stowed, back to sleep—because the next day is the big test.


The next day you have to prove and demonstrate that everything else now has been performing well, you now know that the backpack will support you in case you have to be outside the spacecraft. We’ve demonstrated that. We know that all the systems work, that the propulsion system works now. And so now the big moment is to prove, in fact, and demonstrate that we can rendezvous: that we can take those two spacecraft and separate them and bring them back together again after four or five hours, and moving off a couple of hundred miles. And one of them doesn’t have a heat shield, so that it can’t come back without getting back together. And so the next day you go through all that preparation again. And you get in the lunar module, which has now become a friend again. And you go through all the preparation for that rendezvous, and you separate. And it’s like taking a ball in your hand and, as you stretch out your arm, and your elbow locks or you get the straight arm, you let go of the ball, and the ball floats away. Except it’s a little different, because that’s the way it’s supposed to work. But instead—and you’re on the ball, by the way; it’s the other guy who’s on the arm—and as that arm stretches out the fingers don’t let the ball go. And so you get to the end of the stroke on the docking mechanism and it goes CLANK, and you look back and forth and you say, “What was that? That wasn’t in the simulations.” And about the time you’re wondering what it was and maybe discretion is the better part of valor, and you ought to go back in here and start over again, your friend goes CLUNK and opens up the fingers. And you say, “Well, we’ll find out in five hours whether it’s all okay.” And so, off you go. And five hours later everything has worked right again. It’s been a long five hours and you’ve gone through a lot of tests, but everything has worked. And here you come. You’re coming back together again. And there’s no reunion like that reunion. Not only because it’s your heat shield out there, which is the only way to get back home, but because that’s your friend over there. Dave Scott is your next door neighbor, but he was never a neighbor like he’s a neighbor now. And so you dock, and you get back together, and you open the tunnel, and there’s a reunion that can’t be topped.


And so you get everything done, and you get back into the command module, and you’re tired. You’re absolutely exhausted. You haven’t had enough sleep. You haven’t had a good meal. In fact, you probably haven’t even eaten that day. And you sit there and you’ve taken off your suit, and now you’ve got just a piece of that lunar module left sticking on the nose of the command module. And you throw a switch and it’s gone, and there’s a piece of you that just floats off. It’s a machine; so are we. And it goes away; floats off into the distance, having done its job. And now your thoughts turn to things like a shower and a bed to sleep in and all those things that you realize you haven’t been thinking about for those five hectic days that you’ve just been through. But all that is five days away, because the flight plan says now we show that we can go for ten days. We show that we can do the whole mission, the endurance part. And so for the next five days, while you’re thinking about a steak and a shower and a bed and all those things, you float around the Earth doing other tests.


And now, for the first time, you have a chance to look out that window. And you look out at that incredibly beautiful Earth down below. And you reach down into the cabinet alongside the seat and you pull out a world map and you play tour guide. And you set up the little trace on top of the map which has your orbit traces on it, and you look ahead to where you’re going and what countries you’re going to be passing over, what sights you’re going to see. And while the other guys are busy you say, “Hey, in ten minutes we’re going to be over the Mediterranean again and you might want to look out.” So you look forward to that. And you go around the world, around and around and around, performing these tests. Every hour and a half you go around the Earth. And you look down at it.


And finally, after ten days—151 times around the world, 161 sunrises and sunsets in ten days—you turn around and you light that main engine again for the last time, and you slow down just enough to graze that womb of the Earth: the atmosphere. And down you come into the atmosphere. And as you come back in you experience that deceleration, the inverse of what you experienced to get there, and it seems as though you’re under an incredible pressure. You know that you’re experiencing at least four Gs—four times the force of gravity—and you say, “Jim, what is it now?” And he says, “Two tenths of a G.” You say, “Oh no.” So that by the time you reach four or five Gs you begin to realize the burden that man has lived under for millions of years. And as you look out the window you see your heat shield trailing out behind you in little bright particles, flaking off, glowing; the whole atmosphere behind you glowing, this glowing sheath sort of cork-screwing back up toward space.


And finally you slow down enough where all of the bright light from out the window, the fireball that you’ve been encapsulated in, has now dissipated. And you’re slowing down. You’re, in fact, subsonic. Coming down into the heavy part of the atmosphere. And there are just a couple of things left. And you cross your fingers because all through the flight you’ve been throwing switches and various pyrotechnic devices, explosive devices, that have sealed one fluid from another and one portion of the spacecraft from another. And you throw these, and the thing goes pop or bang depending on where it is, how loud it is. And you’ve got a couple more of those to go, and those are the ones that control your parachutes. And so you throw the switch for the next to last time, and it goes pop and the drag chutes come out. And you say, “It worked!” And you slow down to a couple hundred miles an hour. And then you throw one more switch and POP, out go the main chutes, and they work. And you realize that the last explosive device, the last switch that you’ve had to throw, the last surge of electrons through all the wiring has had to work and it worked. And now that whole thing is behind you. And SPLASH, you’re on the surface of the Atlantic and there are people circling around in helicopters and ships. You’re back in humanity again. And it’s an incredible feeling.


And what’s it all meant? You know, will man now—after that experience—be able to set foot on the moon and return to Earth by 1970? Yes. All of those things that had to work and be proven have worked and been proven. And you’ve been a part of it. And you’ve done a tremendous job. And you realize it. And you realize all the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of things that have had to work. And they worked. And you’re that much nearer to meeting that incredible goal of putting man on another planet. Have you opened a door to the future? Have you changed the nature of exploration? Yeah. You’ve done that. Man will not step back through that door and close it, except for perhaps short periods of time. You’ve opened up a new door. And are there any practical benefits from it? Yeah. Lots of practical benefits. Ad infinitum. You get tired of talking about them. But they’re there, and they make a big difference in the world. In fact, you’re dedicated to them because they will make that difference.


But I think that, in some ways, there are other benefits which are more significant. I think that you’ve played a part in a changing concept of man and what life is all about. A relationship that you have assumed all these years—and not just you, but man, humanity, the whole of history has assumed: that relationship to a planet which is now changed. And you now know that because it’s a part of your gut, not a part of your head. And you wonder, you marvel, that an Archibald MacLeish somehow knew that. How did he know that? That’s a miracle.


But up there you go around every hour and a half, time after time after time. And you wake up, usually in the mornings, and just the way the track of your orbits go, you wake up over the Middle East and over North Africa. And as you eat breakfast you look out the window as you’re going past, and there’s the Mediterranean area, Greece and Rome, and North Africa, and the Sinai. That whole area. And you realize that, in one glance, what you’re seeing is what was the whole history of man for years: the cradle of civilization. And you think of all that history that you can imagine, looking at that scene. And you go around, down across North Africa and out over the Indian Ocean, and look up at that great subcontinent of India pointed down toward you as you go past it. Ceylon off to the side, and Burma, Southeast Asia. Out over the Philippines and up across that monstrous Pacific Ocean—vast body of water. You’ve never realized how big that is before. And you finally come up across the coast of California, and you look for those friendly things—Los Angeles and Phoenix, and on across to El Paso. And there’s Houston, there’s home! You know? And you look, and sure enough, there’s the Astrodome! And you identify with that; it’s an attachment. And on across to New Orleans, and then looking down to the south, and there’s the whole peninsula of Florida laid out. And all the hundreds of hours you’ve spent flying across that route down in the atmosphere, all that is friendly again. And you go out across the Atlantic Ocean and back across Africa. And you do it again and again and again.


And that identity—that you identify with Houston, and then you identify with Los Angeles, and Phoenix, and New Orleans, and everything. And the next thing you recognize in yourself is: you’re identifying with North Africa. You look forward to that, you anticipate it. And there it is. And that whole process begins the shift of what it is you identify with. When you go around [the Earth] in an hour and a half, you begin to recognize that your identity is with that whole thing! And that makes a change. And you look down there, and you can’t imagine how many borders and boundaries you cross, again and again and again. And you don’t even see them. And that wake-up scene, the year before, there you are—hundreds of people killing each other over some imaginary line that you’re not even aware of, that you can’t see. And from where you see it, the thing is a whole, and it’s so beautiful. And you wish you could take one in each hand and say, “Look!” You know? One from each side. “Look at it from this perspective! Look at that! What’s important?”


And so, a little later on, when your friends—again, those same neighbors, the person next to you—goes out to the moon. And now he looks back, and he sees the Earth not as something big where he can see the beautiful details, but now he sees the Earth as a small thing out there. And now that contrast between that bright blue and white Christmas tree ornament and that black sky, that infinite universe, really comes through. And the size of it, the significance of it—it becomes both things. It becomes so small and so fragile, and such a precious little spot in that universe that you can block out with your thumb. And you realize that on that small spot, that little blue and white thing, is everything that means anything to you. All of history and music and poetry and art and war and death and birth and love, tears, joy, games—all of it on that little spot out there that you can cover with your thumb. And you realize that that perspective has… that you’ve changed. That there’s something new there. That relationship is no longer what it was.


And then you look back on the time you were outside on that EVA, and those few moments that that you could make the time—because a camera malfunctioned—that you could make the time and think about what was happening. And you recall standing out there at the spectacle that went before your eyes. Because now you’re no longer inside something with a window, looking out at a picture. But now you’re out there. And what you’ve got around your head is a goldfish bowl, and there are no limits to it. There are no frames, there are no boundaries. You’re really out there, over it, floating, going 25,000 miles an hour, ripping through space, in a vacuum. And there’s not a sound. There’s a silence the depth of which you’ve never experienced before, and that silence contrasts so markedly with the scenery of what you’re seeing, and the speed with which you know you’re going, intellectually, in your head. That contrast, the mix of those two things, really comes through.


And you think about what you’re experiencing and why. Do you deserve this? This fantastic experience? Have you earned this in some way? Are you separated out to be touched by God, to have some special experience here that other men cannot have? And you know the answer to that is: no, there’s nothing that you’ve done that deserves that, that earned that. It’s not a special thing for you. You know very well at that moment. And it comes through to you so powerfully that you’re the sensing element for man. You look down and you see all that surface of that globe that you’ve lived on all this time, and you know all those people down there, and they are like you, they are you—and somehow you represent them. You are up there as the sensing element, that point out on the end. And that’s a humbling feeling. It’s a feeling that says you have a responsibility. It’s not for yourself. You have to somehow—the eye that doesn’t see does not do justice to the body. That’s why it’s there. That’s why you’re out there. And somehow you recognize that you’re a piece of this total life. And you’re out on that forefront, and you have to bring that back somehow. And that becomes a rather special responsibility. And it tells you something about your relationship with this thing we call life. And so that’s a change. That’s something new. And when you come back there’s a difference in that world now. There’s a difference in that relationship between you and that planet, and you and all those other forms of life on that planet, because you’ve had that kind of experience. And it’s a difference. And it’s so precious. And all through this I’ve used the word “you” because it’s not me, it’s not Dave Scott, it’s not Dick Gordon, Pete Conrad, John Glenn. It’s you. It’s us. It’s we. It’s life that’s had that experience. And it’s not just my problem to integrate, it’s not my challenge to integrate my joy, to integrate what’s yours. It’s everybody’s.


And I guess that’s really about all I’d like to say. Except that—and I don’t even know why, but to me it means a lot, and I’d like to sort of close this part of it before David has a chance to come back at me with a poem by e e cummings that’s just become a part of me somehow out of all this, and I’m not really sure how. And he says that

I thank You God for most this amazing day

For the leaping greenly spirits of trees

And a blue true dream of sky

And for everything

Which is natural which is infinite which is yes

Thank you.

Commentary 1



There’s a strange perversity in this conference that put me on this stage, and there are impossible acts to follow.

When Rusty was describing his experience I was thinking what I was experiencing just at this moment because, for as long as I can remember, cosmic things have had a special glamor for me, a special importance. And my father and I used to spend long hours reading and discussing science fiction and space travel. My grandfather and my father, who lived on a very large farm in Ohio, used to build rockets and launch them. And dad would go out and find field mice. He would want to see what would happen if a field mouse was launched. And they launched a field mouse one day, and they never actually found the field mouse again. You didn’t find it, did you?

And many years later my father, when [???] returned [???] living in North Africa, used to go on the lecture circuit. And he would talk about his experiences with his father in launching rockets. And he would address himself to this question of: what did space exploration mean in the areas of human culture? So my dreams have always been filled with space and what, to me, is a destiny of man to find his home on a planet and also in that from which planets are derived.

And not long after he started, the immensity of it struck me. That, through some strange confluency of events, I found myself sitting a few inches away from an individual who had actually been out in space, who had been an embodiment of the things that I had dreamed about. Which, for me, was as incredible an impact as perhaps actually being there. Sitting next to—it’s like a little cell next to an optic nerve suddenly realizing that it’s next to an optic nerve.


The things that Rusty has been describing are, therefore, deep to me on a personal level and, like everything else in this conference, addresses to this problem of identity, and of knowing who we are, and where we are, and trying to discover where we’re going. And to see those questions within as large a context, as human a context, as possible. For me, humanity’s home has always embraced the stars. There may be other humanities out there; I believe that there are, whatever form they take. And I believe we are part of a community with them. I believe we have a challenge to know as wholly as we can the world in which we live, from which we have sprung, and yet a world which, in some way, will find its connectiveness to the universe through us. Not only through us, but definitely through us—in a way that humanity can provide it.


And I looked to a time when, however it is accomplished—whether it is accomplished by men like Rusty and Neil Armstrong and others physically traversing space, whether it is accomplished by our artists and poets like Bill, or our psychologists to explore the inner realms, or our mystics, or the guy next door who is providing an entry point for the ongoingness of life to work its way out of dreams and into reality—however we cross these spaces, we are going to cross them.


Once, in a deep meditative experience in which I was in communion with what to me are intelligences that are non-human—I don’t necessarily mean outer-spatial beings, I just mean a different dimension of consciousness—it was said the only thing that separates anything in the universe is consciousness. That, if your consciousness is one with a being on Alpha Centauri, you are closer to that being than you may be to your neighbor whom you don’t particularly like because his lawnmower wakes you up Sunday mornings, and he doesn’t live according to your lifestyle. And we participate through the lens of a Rusty in the wholeness of Earth. And as Stewart Brand was saying, we see the whole world and our consciousness expands through that image. And we partake in that mystical touch. And yet, we are light-years away from the people who may be next to us in a conference or in a neighborhood or on that same world. So in some way, we all have the same task, which is to achieve and surpass orbital velocity to break out of our own internal gravities and become the kind of thing that Joe was talking about: an intranaut, an astranaut, a peoplenaut. And find that space of consciousness where we are together, and we are one.


And I feel very privileged to both share a platform with an individual who has provided a great thrust towards that planetary orbital velocity of consciousness, and also to have shared a conference with people who are doing the same thing. And that is my comment. Thank you.

Commentary 2


I’d like to make a comment, if I may, before we get to the audience. A short one. When I was listening to Rusty I was thinking back. And the expansion of space that you were describing about the compression of time we’ve experienced. I used to listen to my father, who was born on a farm in Indiana in 1893, talk about going up in planes in the First World War, in the Signal Corps then—it wasn’t even the Air Force. And he said the first time they’d go up there was such an incredible delight and a sense of wonder that, when they would see the Germans, they would wave at them because they were fellow in this air. And then, somehow, they lost that sense of wonder, became familiar with their machines, at one with them rather than having the machines an extension of them in the way that you described. And then they took up pistols. And then they took up rifles. And then the rifles shot down the propellers. And then the demonic really manifested itself and they synchronized the machine guns with the propellers. And then the war began in earnest.


And it seems, somehow, that one of the things we have to remember—and certainly the humanists here more than you people do—is that technology is not the demonic, that there can be an extension of our consciousness through space and time with machines, and that if we always maintain a sense of wonder and delight—we must become as little children and have the playfulness of toys with these things, and not use them to express the demonic and the aspect of control, but to take time to see them—then I think there’s a possibility that we can transcend not just the limits of the boundaries of the nation states (that you so beautifully described in going around the world), but also the boundaries of our consciousness: that this is technology, and this is mysticism, and this is poetry, and this is politics. And if there’s anything that I think requires a kind of revolution of consciousness, it’s certainly that a lot of these boundaries are in here.


And so I think it’s a sense of wonder. And the thing that most moved me in going down to Florida and sharing with my son and my daughter and my wife the experience of the liftoff was what a fantastic sense of wonder this was, and that all the old sophisticated New York clichés about technology—and why don’t we do this with it, and why don’t we do that—all suddenly just disappeared. And that this was real, and this was present, and this was being here now, and this was an event that, after which, we would never be the same.


And I think the importance of that liftoff was both a sense of time—that I said, “Here I am with my children, and my father talked to me about the first flight in space, and I’m living to see this rocket go off to the moon. And not even for the first time,” was a sense that, somehow or other, time was coming to a point as space was expanding to infinity. And that if we could accept that point we could go through the eye of a needle and come out into a wholly new space and a wholly new time.

Russell Schweickart

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