“The Dark Fields of the Republic Rolled On…”

Longtime readers of this blog (love you both, mom and dad!) know how I feel about astronauts and social media. Namely, I think every astronaut should be required to use social media. There are never more than a handful of humans in space at any given moment (there are currently 6 people aboard the ISS), and they’re blessed with incredibly privileged views of our home planet. A great many earthbound Earthlings like myself draw inspiration from the work they do and, no less important, the photographs they share. Luckily for us, most of the astronauts currently aboard the ISS now tweet amazing photographs on a daily basis, and as is usually the case, their skills are improving the longer they remain in orbit. Click on the hyperlinks at the end of this sentence to browse through the respective portfolios by American astronauts Randy Bresnik, Mark Vande Hei, and Joseph Acaba, Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli, and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazansky.

Vande Hei shared the incredible photograph featured at left earlier this morning. It shows New York City in all its vibrant glory while the rest of the darkened continent sprawls toward the horizon and beyond. The image immediately called to mind a line from the famous last paragraph of The Great Gatsby: “… his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night…”

One could hardly write a better caption for the image (even if large parts of its “vast obscurity” technically fall within Canada rather than the American republic), so I will not try. I will add, however, that the photograph not only evokes F. Scott Fitzgerald, but also provides a nice twist on Saul Steinberg’s famous cover for The New Yorker from 1976, the one depicting a New Yorker’s view of the world as seen from 9th Avenue. I would argue that Vande Hei’s photograph undermines such a parochial view (and, for that matter, all parochial views), but I am keenly aware that some disagree. Speaking of which, I would be disingenuous if I didn’t acknowledge that my passion for astronaut photography intensifies when things are going badly here on Earth. For those of us who cherish timeless qualities like compassion, empathy, and rational thought, watching the daily news is a nauseating experience. For me, photos of Earth from space act as a sort of balm for the soul. Maybe it’s because they offer a distraction, or an escape, though I’d like to think that they also provide perspective. In any case, they serve to remind us what intellectual curiosity and international cooperation are capable of achieving. In other words, don’t lose heart.