André Kuipers is a Dutch astronaut for the European Space Agency (ESA) and has completed two missions to the International Space Station (ISS) to perform scientific experiments. He is also a photographer. During his space missions, André had a view of our planet that few of us will ever experience. He’s using this experience and the photos he took of earth from the space station to share an urgent message with the world. We spoke to him about his experiences.
Black velvet carpet with gold embroidery
During my missions, I saw a world without borders. I could look out over deserts, expansive woodlands, tropical rainforests, the loveliest islands and endless seas. From space, at a distance of 248 miles (400 kilometers), these landscapes are very easy to distinguish. You have a wonderful view of the world — especially at night. For example, one time I was flying above the Alps. It was a clear night so the view was magnificent. I saw the lights of Dublin and Oslo to my right. On my left was southern Spain and Morocco with Cairo in Egypt to the right. I could see the whole of Europe simply by turning my head. It was like flying above a black velvet carpet with gold embroidery. I took some fantastic shots.
Choosing holiday destinations from space
From space, my favorite spot is the Bahamas with its turquoise waters. After my space mission, I had to see it in person so I went there to go scuba diving and it was breathtaking. The outback of Australia is in second place, with its red deserts and salt lakes. I haven’t been there yet, but it’s high on my to-do list. There are so many beautiful places. The biggest ‘tourist mistake’ you can make during a space mission is to take so many photos that you forget to truly enjoy the experience.
My photography has a message
Apart from all the beautiful photos I took, I could also see how the world is changing for the worse. All those lights at night might look magical, but they made it clear to me that there are a great many of us. Two hundred thousand babies are born every day. That’s an extra city each day for our planet. Where are we going to put all these people? I had the same claustrophobic feeling when I saw the lights of countless fishing boats from space. Thousands of lights on the water. The fish stocks of our oceans are being depleted at an alarming rate.
During the day, I could very clearly see the impact of climate change. Global warming is conducive to the growth of algae, a sign that the ecological balance has been upset. I saw huge patches of green on the water — and they were getting ever bigger. I saw the light-green patch of algae literally seem to swallow big patches of the ocean. We know it’s happening, but we’re not doing enough about it. We are not dealing sensibly with our planet.
Ambassador for earth
I could see for myself just how incredibly thin our atmosphere is — without it, everything dies. How air pollution above large cities is increasing and light pollution at night. How jungles are becoming ever smaller, reducing the size of the habitats of flora and fauna. By showing people my photographs and telling stories about what’s happening, I hope to raise awareness of the limitations of our planet.
Help Mother Earth yourself
I have faith that things will turn out well for our planet. I believe in technological solutions but sometimes we have to do something ourselves, or rather, not do something. For example, we could eat less meat. Meat production requires ten times as much land and water than the same amount of plant-based food. And, you can make your house warmer simply by closing the curtains. This is not only good for the planet, but also for your energy bills! All of us need to work harder to protect Mother Earth.
You’re reading “Amazing Photography” on Photofocus and own the printed version, too*
*Offer applies to the United States only
Every other week a new photo and the story behind it will be published here on Photofocus. Clemens and Ivan have made copies of “Amazing Photography” available for the cost of shipping — $8.99 alone. The book retails for $29.99 regularly. Here are some highlights …
- More than 100 breathtaking photos by professional and hobby photographers
- 13 personal stories from pro’s and hobbyists such as Albert Dros (pro-photographer), Laura Vink (pro-photographer), Andre Kuipers (astronaut and photographer), Ori Guttin (co-founder Viewbug) and Evgeny Tchebotarev (co-founder 500px)
- 4 practical photo guides to help you enjoy your photos to the max
- 7 DIY quick fixes for unexpected photography situations
- World’s top 15 under-the-radar spots for stunning photos
- Would you rather …? A hypothetical photography game for friends
- The science behind how your photos can affect your happiness and well-being.