Tim Peake
European Space Agency astronaut

It’s impossible not to be mesmerised by the view of Earth from space. From a distance, our planet appears a vibrant, blue oasis of life. Yet our existence depends upon a tiny strip of gas, just 16 km high, which protects us from the harsh environment of space and for billions of years has created the conditions for life to evolve on our planet. Our atmosphere is what differentiates Earth from the barren, hostile conditions of Mars or Venus.

From the unique vantage point of the International Space Station, orbiting the planet sixteen times a day, astronauts get to enjoy a stunning view of our atmosphere, best viewed at sunrise and sunset where the curvature of the Earth meets the blackness of space. But from space it’s immediately apparent just how fragile our ecosystem is.

On Earth, looking up on a clear day we see lovely blue skies, but the view from space is not warm and welcoming – the Earth is set against a vast, black abyss and you suddenly realise how vulnerable and isolated we are on this small rocky planet. A myriad of complex systems churn away perpetually on the ISS to provide something that many of us take for granted on Earth – clean air and water.

Many astronauts report a phenomenon called the ‘Overview Effect’ – a cognitive shift in awareness while viewing Earth from orbit or the lunar surface. William Anders was one of the crew of Apollo 8, the first manned spacecraft to leave the Earth’s orbit and circle the Moon. On Christmas Eve 1968, he and his fellow crewmen emerged in their spacecraft from behind the Moon’s dark side, and they saw in front of them an astounding sight – an exquisite blue sphere hanging in the blackness of space. The photograph Anders took is known as “Earthrise”.

At this moment in the history of human culture, we truly saw ourselves from a distance for the very first time, and this wonderful image is credited with inspiring a greater respect for our environment.

In this same spirit, the European Aviation Environmental Report aims to help protect our home by providing critical information on the environmental performance of the European aviation sector in order to focus efforts that spur innovation and help address the environmental challenges that we all face.

We only have one home – we would do well to look after it.