Astronaut warns Earth is fast losing its 'thin blue line' as she heads to COP26

An astronaut headed to COP26 this weekend has warned world leaders that planet Earth is fast running out of its ‘thin blue line’.

Retired NASA explorer Nicole Stott said powerbrokers need to ‘start behaving like crewmates’ to ensure a future for humankind.

Nicole is one of few who can speak from the experience of gazing down on the rapidly-diminishing ‘veil’ from the International Space Station (ISS).

She is in Glasgow with a message that it is critical to planetary survival that a solution to global warming is found at the two-week UN Climate Change Summit, which begins on Sunday (October 31).

Nicole told ‘As an astronaut it wasn’t all about the adventure and I think for all astronauts what we are doing up there is all about improving life on Earth.

‘Once you get there and view our planet from that special vantage point, it’s kind of simple. It’s a feeling of, “oh my gosh that’s where I live”.

‘It’s obvious here but when you’re in space it gets into your bones and your mind. We’re all Earthlings and the only thing that matters is that thin blue line that protects us all and there’s this core knowledge that we really need to start behaving like crewmates instead of passengers.

‘What becomes very clear with the work we’re doing in space is that we absolutely have the power to create a future for all life on Earth that’s as beautiful as it looks from space.’

Nicole, who lives in Florida with her husband and teenage son, has two spaceflights and 104 days as crew member on the ISS and Discovery shuttle under her belt. Her beyond-Earth expeditions include stepping into the expanse as a flight engineer after blasting off in August 2009.

She performed a spacewalk of more than six-and-a-half hours while in orbit, returning to her home planet after 91 days.

The crew member returned as a mission specialist two years later, spending 13 days taking part in STS-133, the final, historic expedition using Discovery, which is now a museum piece.

‘We stand here on a planet not really digging our feet in the dirt and thinking about it and when we look up it’s easy to assume the blue skies go on forever,’ she said.

‘When you’re in space it becomes crystal clear that there’s this glowing, translucent, colourful reality, and the blue we see from Earth is just a thin veil around the planet. It’s doing its best to hold all the good stuff in for us, and we need to stop putting so much bad stuff into it.’

Since hanging up her space boots, the 58-year-old has turned her hand to art, harnessing themes encompassing creativity and science.

She is travelling to COP26 for appearances at events including the Extreme Hangout, a youth-focused project where she will co-present The Moon Symphony alongside composer Amanda Lee Falkenberg.

The music-backed show, on a repurposed ferry on the River Clyde, close to the main summit, is among a number of appearances Nicole is making in the Scottish capital at the invitation of ActionAid international.

‘It’s an urgent, critical time for the planet,’ she said.

‘We’ve been saying those words for a long time but we are starting to witness that everywhere is interconnected.

‘In Glasgow I have been to a school where they have had flooding they have rarely seen before, which is happening more and more often, and the temperatures are changing. The reality is in our face.

‘When you bring in the international community to address that from a planetary standpoint they need to understand that they’ve to do more than talking, they have got to implement the solutions.’

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The NASA veteran, whose book Back to Earth launches in the UK on November 11, learnt to take nothing for granted on the low-orbit ISS.

Similar rules applied during her time as an aquanaut, which involved spending 18 days living and working in the Aquarius undersea research habitat, which lies 63ft below the surface in the Florida Keys. Team working in close confines has entailed training across the world, including in Japan, Germany, Canada and at a Russian language immersion class in Moscow.

‘The way we have lived and worked as an international community, peacefully, successfully for over 20 years on the ISS is the best model for world leaders here on Earth,’ she said.

‘We’re on this mechanical life-support system where we’ve done everything we can to mimic what Earth does for us naturally.

‘Up there, every day we are acutely aware of how much CO2 we have in our atmosphere, how much drinking water we have, the integrity of our thin metal hull and the health and wellbeing of our team-mates.

‘We have to know these things to survive. I wish we could have all the leaders floating with their heads bouncing off each other, looking down at Earth, I think some decisions would be expedited.’

On terra firma, Nicole is also living up to the lessons of the cosmos as co-founder of the Space for Art Foundation, which aims to heal and inspire children worldwide, including in hospitals and refugee camps.

She is due to appear at the Extreme Hangout on Tuesday, November 2.

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