What Is Spaceship Earth?

We are currently on a ball of rock named Earth that is hurtling through space at a speed of around 67,000 miles per hour.

Whilst our solar system is hurtling around the center of our galaxy at a mind-boggling 490,000 miles per hour. Holy moly! 

What Is Spaceship Earth?

That means we are moving at far greater speeds than any technology we can even dream of making today. 

Scientists often study the forces of nature and the creatures that adapt to them for optimum performance. For example, many airplanes are built using the physical aesthetics of elegantly gliding birds. 

So, what about spaceships? Can we build technology to replicate the earth’s steadfast and determined path through the universe?

Or perhaps, are we already on one?

This article will examine the concept of ‘Spaceship Earth’, looking at the idea’s origins, the vocal advocates of the idea, and what it means for our future. 

What Is Spaceship Earth?

The Spaceship Earth concept, also known as Spacecraft Earth or Spaceship Planet Earth, is a worldview built on cooperation and understanding, a perspective that seeks to work for the ‘greater good.’

The concept builds on the idea that all the inhabitants of the planet must work together as one, as one crew, one family, to maintain and ensure the smooth operation of Spaceship Earth. 

With anything mechanical, all the parts must know their role, and each has to work for the machine to succeed as a whole. For example, let us consider a wristwatch.

These tiny mechanical marvels are made up of hundreds of tiny pieces. Alone, many of these pieces seem tiny, insignificant, powerless, yet when they are all combined, they create something spectacular.  

The Spaceship Earth concept states that Earth is just the same, it is a biological spaceship, and we are its crew, the ship needs us, and we need to take care of our ship.

We need to be placing the earth’s survival at the front and center of thinking and policy, efforts, and ideologies. 

It is far too easy to be consumed by the many happenings and shenanigans in daily life and easy to simply forget how precious and unique our situation is here on earth.

What Is Spaceship Earth?

We are often living unconsciously, only concerned with our immediate situation and not taking the time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

The idea of Spaceship Earth is used to encourage a more conscious way of living, aiming to make each individual aware of their role in the crew for maintaining this mighty ship. 

Where Did The Idea Come From?

The concept has appeared in various literature over the years, so here we will take a peek at some of those mentions. 

It’s not surprising that those living in times of busy sea trade might have conceived earth to be the ship on which we sail across the choppy oceans of the night’s sky. 

The first known use of the idea can be found in Progress and Poverty, written by Henry George in 1879, as he touched on the romanticized and heroic nature of life at sea.

“It is a well-provisioned ship, this on which we sail through space. If the bread and beef above decks seem to grow scarce, we but open a hatch, and there is a new supply, of which before we never dreamed.” 

George Orwell, the author of classics including 1984 and Animal Farm, also made reference to Henry George’s concept whilst writing in his 1937 book The Road To Wigan Pier.

As Orwell interestingly observed, the notion of everyone cooperating seems so incredibly obvious that it seems lunacy we would not do so.

This highlights the position of those in power influencing policy decisions, as many in power benefit greatly from the corruption and environmental damage that happens worldwide.

They often wish for a divided people, not united and working together for positive change.  

“The world is a raft sailing through space with, potentially, plenty of provisions for everybody; the idea that we must all cooperate and see to it that everyone does his fair share of the work

and gets his fair share of the provisions seems so blatantly obvious that one would say that no one could possibly fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for clinging to the present system.”

The concept was brought to the attention of the wider public in 1965 when the idea was presented in a speech made by the American Adlai Stevenson to the United Nations.

He looked to highlight that togetherness, cooperation, and commitment were needed to maintain the future of Earth and our species.

Here he brings focus to the delicate and vulnerable state of the planet, our ‘craft’, that has limited reserves from which we can build our lives and futures.

What Is Spaceship Earth?

“We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil;

all committed for our safety to its security and peace; preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and, I will say, the love we give our fragile craft.

We cannot maintain it half fortunate, half miserable, half confident, half despairing, half slave—to the ancient enemies of man—half free in a liberation of resources undreamed of until this day.

No craft, no crew, can travel safely with such vast contradictions. On their resolution, depends on the survival of us all.”

The 1966 essay The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth was written by Kenneth E. Boulding.

He compared the economy of the past and current to a “cowboy economy,” one in which precious resources are consumed at exponential rates despite the limited supply.

He foresaw a possible future in which earth may be involved in the “spaceman economy.” This referred to the idea that the earth will be drained of its resources and may no longer be able to host us as a species. 

In 1968 the book Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth was released by Buckminister Fuller. In it, he touched on humanity’s relationship with and overuse of fossil fuels. 

“… we can make all of humanity successful through science’s world-engulfing industrial evolution, provided that we are not so foolish as to

continue to exhaust in a split second of astronomical history the orderly energy savings of billions of years’ energy conservation aboard our Spaceship Earth.

These energy savings have been put into our Spaceship’s life-regeneration-guaranteeing bank account for use only in self-starter functions.”

Final Thoughts 

Spaceship Earth is a wholesome and welcoming worldview to adapt.  The concept is one based on both logic and mystery as we continue to sail the seas of this mysterious and ever-expanding cosmos.  

It is evident that the way in which humanity treats the earth is a disaster of unparalleled scale waiting to happen.

If we don’t make this place shipshape, then it will continue to break down until there are no resources left here for us. 

The spirit of togetherness, community, equality, and peace can help drive the world forward and encourage people to help others, especially in these most uncertain of times.

The more that we work together to protect the earth, the greater chance there is of the long-term survival of both humanity and the Spaceship Earth itself.

Gordon Watts