Planetary Collective



By Ron Garan

ISS astronaut
Founder, Fragile Oasis

In June of 2008, I clamped my feet to the end of the robotic Canadarm-2 on the International Space Station. With me attached to the end, the arm was flown through a maneuver that we called the “windshield wiper” which that took me across a long arc above the space station and back. At the top of this arc, I was 100’ above the space station looking down at this incredible accomplishment of humanity against the backdrop of our indescribably beautiful Earth 240 miles below. Seeing the absolute beauty of the planet we have been given was a very moving experience. But as I looked down at this beautiful, fragile oasis – this island that has been given to us, and has protected all life from the harshness of space – I couldn’t help but think of the inequity that exists. I couldn’t help but think of the people who don’t have clean water to drink, enough food to eat, and the social injustice, conflicts, and poverty that exists. When we see our Earth from the orbital perspective we are struck with an undeniably sobering contradiction. On the one hand is the beauty of our planet but on the other hand are the unfortunate realities of life on our beautiful planet for a significant portion of her inhabitants.

I returned to Earth after that first space mission with a call to action. I could no longer accept the status-quo on our planet. We have the resources and technology to solve many, if not all of the problems facing our planet yet nearly a billion people do not have access to clean water, countless go to bed hungry every night, and many die from preventable and curable diseases. We live in a world where the possibilities are limited only by our imagination and our will to act. It is within our power to eliminate the suffering and poverty that exist on our planet.

On my second space mission I spent half of 2011 living and working onboard the International Space Station. I spent most of my free time gazing back at our Earth wondering what the world would be like in the next 50 years and pondering the question, If we have the resources and the technology to solve the challenges we face, why do they still remain?

I believe that the answer to why our world still faces so many critical problems in spite of our ample technology and resources lies primarily in our inability to effectively collaborate on a global scale. Although there are literally millions of organizations around the world working to improve life on Earth, for the most part, these organizations are not engaged in a unified, coordinated effort. There is a great deal of duplication of effort, loss of efficiency, and unfortunately in many cases unhealthy competition.

We have the technology that can enable true global collaboration that is consistent and world changing. Our real challenge is demonstrating how vital and valuable collaboration is, despite the real and perceived risks. Open collaborations make solutions better through the pooling of resources and information. Working together multiplies cost-effectiveness while reducing duplication of effort. It is the only real way to enable economies – and solutions – of scale. Perhaps most importantly, collaboration encourages greater accountability and fosters trust.

There has to be a way for all to collaborate toward our common goals. An effective collaboration mechanism will pair together challenges with solutions, bringing together different unique pieces of the puzzle and enabling us to learn from each other’s successes and failures and make all these organizations’ technologies and approaches considerably more effective than they would be otherwise. Since there are multiple organizations looking to develop tools to enable collaboration, it is critical to unify those efforts. A project called Unity Node is presently working to unify efforts to provide collaborative platforms and is striving to create a universal open source platform for global collaboration.

As I looked back at our Earth from the orbital perspective, I saw a world where natural and man-made boundaries disappeared, I saw a world becoming more and more interconnected and collaborative, a world where the exponential increase in technology was making the impossible possible on a daily basis. Thinking about the next 50 years, I imagined a world where people and organizations set aside their differences and work together toward their common goals. They set aside their differences and realize that each and every one of us is riding through the Universe together on this Spaceship we call Earth. They realize that because we are all interconnected, we are all in this together and because we are all family, the only way to solve the problems we all face is together

I imagined a world where open/transparent collaborations become the engines that fuel tremendous economic growth and help us overcome many of the problems facing our planet. I imagined that those individuals and organizations that engage in unhealthy competition, secretive dealings, and corruption see themselves being left behind and have to adapt, evolve and take on a much more effective collaborative mindset in order to keep up with the economic growth that collaboration will bring. I imagined a world where we all firmly believed that by working together we can accomplish anything.

For almost all of human history, the vast majority of people in the world believed that it was impossible to fly to the Moon – simply because it had never been done before. Human ingenuity and the determination of the human spirit proved that it was possible. Today, many people believe that it is impossible to solve many of the problems of the world. It is widely believed that is impossible to lift the entire global population out of poverty. ‘There have always been poor in the world and there always will be,’ they say. If we can land on the Moon and return to Earth safely, if nations can join together and build an enormous research facility in orbit, then by working together we can solve many of the challenges facing our planet –including the alleviation of poverty. Nothing is impossible.

The first step to affect change is to believe that real change is possible. If we all commit to work together I believe that in the next 50 years it is possible to live in a world without poverty, where no one dies from preventable and curable diseases, where everyone has access to clean water and no one goes to sleep hungry, and a world that educates all its children. I believe that we are presently living in a world where the possibilities are endless, and where we are limited only by our imagination and our will to act. You don’t have to be in orbit to have the orbital perspective and by working together we will not have to accept the status quo on our planet.


1 Comment

  1. Colleen Whitt-Hickman December 9, 2012

    Well said – thank you for articulating so well the thoughts of millions of us. In addition to those you describe, I think another impediment to collaboration is ego. Even well-meaning people sometimes want to be recognized for their efforts more than they want to see solutions. As we learn to let go of that need for personal recognition, effective collaboration will become possible.

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