Edgar Degas & NASA

 ' Two Dancers in a Studio ', Edgar Degas, 1875 (left), ' The Blue Marble ', Apollo 17, 1972 (right)

'Two Dancers in a Studio', Edgar Degas, 1875 (left), 'The Blue Marble', Apollo 17, 1972 (right)

Edgar Degas & NASA

I remember first seeing the Earth from space when I was about eight years old. My stepfather owned a copy of that famous photo taken by the astronauts of Apollo 17. When Peter moved in my mother thought his picture ‘naff’, along with his grey leather shoes. So eventually ‘The Blue Marble’ found refuge on my bedroom wall. I don’t know what happened to his shoes.

Maybe the arrival of the Earth from space coincided with an art class on Impressionism. I can’t remember. But whenever I look at that picture I see Degas. That cloud over the South Atlantic, reaching up from the white expanse of Antarctica - it’s one of his dancers!

It makes me think of that quote by the astronaut Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud, ‘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.’ 

No matter how far we travel from Earth, no matter how invisible manmade structures and political borders become, whatever far off planets we might one day see, we’ll always be met by our own visual culture. It’s way too powerful to just disappear. 

How many other dancers are pirouetting in the swirling clouds of distant worlds, I wonder?