The Home Planet is a magnificent collection of photographs of the earth as seen from space, together with excerpts from the writings of astronauts who have flown on either U.S. or Soviet space missions. Kevin W. Kelley conceived and edited the book, and he guided it to completion against what occasionally seemed like overwhelming political and bureaucratic odds.
The effort was definitely worth it – this is far and away the most stunning coffee-table book I’ve ever seen. The images are breathtaking, the quotes stirring and often deeply moving. Whatever your opinion about the utility of space travel, you can’t argue with the beauty of these images of our planet, seen as no generation has seen it before.
I spoke with Kevin by telephone as he worked in his studio in Bolinas, California.
Alan AtKisson: What was your motivation for putting together The Home Planet?
Kevin: I wanted to evoke in people a sense of awe and wonder and mystery, and to give them a definite sense of the divinity that’s in front of us every day. When you look at the earth from space, you can’t help but be struck or touched by the mystery of it all. That mystery is an essential part of living, and it’s an essential part of solving the problems that we have today – we have to be inspired to muse and wonder.
I don’t think that we could even comprehend the changes we need to make, much less make them, if we didn’t have that visual model. I think we hold things in our minds by forming pictures of them. If you ask people what it means to them that they live on a unique planet that’s in space and that goes around the sun, you’ll find that that part of the context of their lives is not very far up in their hierarchy of awareness. Part of what I was trying to do was to flesh out that context and push it higher within the hierarchy.
Alan: Move it closer to the surface of consciousness.
Kevin: Yes, so that the visceral sense of one’s life is different. The image of the earth does that. It was inevitable that it would do that. As Fred Hoyle said in 1948, “Once a photograph of Earth, taken from the outside, is available … a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.”
Alan: Did the astronauts’ reactions surprise you?
Kevin: One thing that struck me most had to do with the blackness of space – astronauts would talk about the “glistening blackness,” the “neon blackness,” and “the blackest black they had ever seen, yet full of sunlight.” The blackness of space was very profound for those people, as was the silence. That’s the medium we’re in. The sun coming in and illuminating our atmosphere and turning everything bright is the rare exception.
Alan: What happens when you look at hundreds of thousands of photos of the earth from space, as you did in producing The Home Planet?
Kevin: Once I found myself saying to someone, “Gee, after you go around the earth so many times, you start to see the same place over and over again and you see how it changes in mood.” When I finished the sentence I thought, “Wait a minute, I haven’t been in space!”
Before I did the book, I used to daydream I was in space – say, ten or twenty-five thousand miles up, looking down at the earth. I spent a lot of time trying to comprehend the environment in that sense – how far we really are from the sun, how big the moon is. I was trying to create a model in my mind that was accurate, because commonly available models are not very accurate.
Understanding our place in that broader context has become more and more important to me. As one astronaut said, “The first day or so we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day we were aware of only one Earth.”
Alan: A friend of mine commented once that the smallness of the planet makes her feel claustrophobic. She says she’s lost the sense of expansive reach one has as a child, when the world is nothing but unexplored territory.
Kevin: I’ve suffered the same thing at times. But on the other hand, my sense of home is incredibly expanded. I was out walking one night while working on the book, and when I looked up, I felt my sense of comfort, my sense of association, my sense of home and self extend all the way to the stars. I actually felt at home in the universe.