George R. Stewart’s Prophetic Whole Earth Vision, and a Canadian Coin

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In a recent issue of the excellent CBC New website,  journalist Bob MacDonald describes a new Canadian coin that honors the 25th anniversary of the first spaceflight by a female Canadian Scientist-Astronaut, Dr. Roberta Bondar.  The coin, beautifully-designed, has two remarkable features. Concave on one side and convex on the other, it carries a sense of the roundness of Earth.  And its colorful rendering of the image-map of Canada from space glows in the dark to reveal patterns of man-made lights in that northern country.  (The Canadians were also kind enough to include a good part of their neighboring nation to the south on the coin.)

Since this is a silver coin, durably made, it will be a long-lasting — “a deep time” — reminder of North American geography as it appeared the early 21st century.

In his article, MacDonald emphasizes what he seems to consider a new idea – that space and conservation are two sides of the same coin.  The article is well-written, and will open up that idea for the first time to many readers.  But the idea is NOT new – NASA is tasked, to do ecological research.  And that, in part, is certainly because George R.Stewart, nearly a quarter of a century before the NASA organic act was written, and 33 years before the first Earth Day,  in Ordeal By Hunger and his ecological novels, presented the concept to a massive audience of literate, general readers.

Ordeal By Hunger, written in 1936,  opens with a view of Nevada from orbit so accurately described that when  International Space Station Astronaut Dr. Ed Lu  photographed Nevada from space his images matched Stewart’s words almost exactly.  Stewart’s history of the Donner Party then comes down to Earth, to focus on the role of the ecosystem in the fate of the emigrants.  Thus, he completes what has become known as The Whole Earth vision – understanding Earth from within its ecosystem, and  from without,  as one small, beautiful, place in the universe.

Stewart follows that same approach in his first ecological novel, Storm.  The novel begins with a view of Earth from Earth orbit; moves into the ecosystem to tell its story; then ends by  taking the reader to an imaginary platform on Venus, describing the tiny bright light called Earth from millions of miles away.

Once again George R. Stewart proved to be a prophet, and trailblazer for our time.  His books helped lay the foundation for the view of Earth found on the new Canadian coin, and for our sense of the Whole Earth.

George R. Stewart, Predictor of 7-20-1969

George R. Stewart opened Ordeal By Hunger, in 1936, with a look at northern Nevada from a 200 mile high orbit – and described the scene so perfectly that when Astronaut Ed Lu, of ISS Expedition Seven, photographed it,  Stewart’s words and Lu’s photos matched precisely. In Storm, Stewart ended the book with a view from Venus, in which his imagined watcher from that world saw no sign of storms disturbing our world. In both these books, Stewart – perhaps not realizing it, or perhaps realizing it, was preparing for that great event that took place 47 years ago today:  the First Step on another world.

Working for NASA, and working with Star Trek artists,  I’ve been honored with some exceptional gifts that memorialize that great day.  I’ll celebrate by contemplating a wonderful gift given by Mike Okuda and another gift from NASA education days.

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Saturn 5 by Mike Okuda

 

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Space flown Apollo 25th Anniversary flag, courtesy NASA. (Signatures collected later.)

Take a moment, if you will, to honor those heroes, and all those who supported them, and the artists who inspire us to follow that dream.  Artists like Mike Okuda, Rick Sternbach, Doug Drexler,  Chesley Bonestell, David Hardy, and so many others, who fire our imaginations to design and build ships to explore other worlds.  And literary artists like George R. Stewart, who prepared us wonderfully for that First Step.

By the way, NASA has restored the entire 3+hours that Armstrong and Aldrin spent on the moon on Apollo Day I.   You can see it or download it here:

George R. Stewart, Space Explorer

Say what?  GRS a space explorer, decades before we had humans in space?  How so?

In Ordeal By Hunger and Storm, Stewart writes the view from space into the work.  The Ordeal By Hunger entry is especially interesting.  He describes the view of northern Nevada along the California Trail so precisely that in the NASA days when I asked Astronaut Dr. Ed Lu to photograph it on ISS Expedition 7, and had the passage sent to him, the photos that came back showed how accurately Stewart had visualized the space explorer’s view – 25 years before any human actually saw it for themselves.

 

Storm begins and ends with a view of Earth from space – the opening passages, like those in Ordeal By Hunger, give a view from near space.  The closing passages move farther out, into the solar system, where he gives the view from Venus.

Interestingly, he changed the space-perspective section in Ordeal By Hunger for the second edition; but once humans had gone into space, he put the original back.

He was a pioneer in the Whole Earth Perspective, including the close view from within the ecosystem here on Earth, and the overview, the Astronaut’s View, from Low Earth Orbit.  So it seemed to make sense to use him as a model for a new way to interpret the Earth and educate others about it. When the opportunity came to present a teacher’s workshop at a Mars Conference, in 1998,  I used that theme.   Accidentally, today, I came upon that workshop paper in researching another talk.  The paper lists all the resources for space education, many now gone, available to teachers in 1998.  GRS wanders into the paper on page 8.

Here’s the paper,  for your edification and amusement.

 

CONTACT: a STEAM event

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Once again, the biennial CONTACT Conference is on the horizon.  Scheduled for next April 1 -3, it will be, as always, a small gathering of renown scientists, artists, authors, educators and just plain interested folks, who want to consider those meeting places of science and the arts which define and drive change.  It will be powered by the energy of STEAM, since it has presenters from and talks about  science, engineering, technology, art, and math.  There will be filmmakers, authors, NASA and SETI scientists, educators, and others.

One of the highlights will be a panel on the art and science of Star Trek; another will be a keynote speech by Rick Sternbach, legendary Star Trek artist, who designed, among other things large and small, the DS 9 Space Station.

The conference has a George R. Stewart connection.  Stewart was the writer of STEAM works, using the art of literature to interpret science and the other disciplines in the acronym.  CONTACT also offered a George R. Stewart Symposium in past years, with participation by composer Phillip Aaberg, geologist Dr. John Stewart, JPL’s Dr. James D. Burke, Stewart Scholar Robert Lyon, and others.  Perhaps most important, Earth Abides opened an intellectual door, for me, into the world of real science, and STEAM.

The conference is affordable, and the hotel rate low.  So if you want a chance to be uplifted and inspired, in a laid-back and collegial atmosphere in which all are welcome, come join us at CONTACT.

CONTACT 2016 (our 29th year!) is meeting on April 1-3 at the Domain Hotel in Sunnyvale, CA. The Keynote speaker: Artist Rick Sternbach, well known for his designs and tech manuals for Star Trek, whose presence celebrates the 50th anniversary of the famed science fiction series. There will be a special symposium dealing with Star Trek’s legacy in the sciences and the arts.

CONTACT has evolved into a premier forum on the future. After a quarter century of our multi-disciplinary conferences, CONTACT includes some of the brightest of the new generation at NASA and SETI, scientists hard and soft, and as well as such exotics as anthropologists, philosophers, poets, filmmakers, historians, mathematicians and space lawyers. And the science fiction community (Larry Niven and Kim Stanley Robinson, this year) always adds a brand of innovative and responsible speculation that has made our conference and organization unique. And more fun for all.  Everyone’s a participant!

We will be offering our traditional blatantly diverse program, with a SETI panel and a session highlighting the connections between science and science fiction. The program will be continuously updated on our website. Join Penny Boston, William Clancey, Bruce Damer, Gus Frederick, Jim Funaro, Joel Hagen, Jeroen Lapré, David Morrison, Larry Niven, Gerald Nordley, Jim Pass, Doug Raybeck, Kim Stanley Robinson, Seth Shostak, Michael Sims, Rich Sternbach, Melanie Swan, Kathleen Toerpe, Zac Zimmer and others at CONTACT 2016.  Looking forward to working and playing together…

 You can register now at:  http://contact-conference.org/