Star Trek

Nuage de poussière venant du Sahara et se dirigeant le long des
côtes de l’Atlantique (Mauritanie, Sénégal, Guinée-Bissau). Image transmise par Envisat. © ESA
Clouds of dust from the Sahara going down the Atlantic coast (Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau). Picture trasmitted by Envisat. © ESA

By the time you reach the full stop at the end of the sentence you are now reading, you will have travelled about 1 350 km. As you read, the Earth is orbiting the Sun, itself on a circular trajectory within the Milky Way that is turning on itself. Not counting the movement of the expanding Universe, that makes a distance travelled of about 270 km a second. Our planet is a galactic vessel on which we are flying along happily at top speed - and almost without protection - in an essentially dark and frozen cosmos. Our travelling companions are one large star that is bombarding us with lethal rays and an array of smaller stars with which a fatal collision cannot be ruled out. Life is precarious? Indeed it is.

This fragility, this mind-boggling improbability, this possible uniqueness in the Universe makes us see the appearance of life on Earth as a kind of miracle, even if a random one. The happy "chosen ones" or perhaps simply the lucky ones, we enjoy this opportunity with little thought. We are miraculous creations and therefore indestructible.

But now things are beginning to change. Our spaceship is running into trouble. The fine film of atmospheric protection is deteriorating. Things are breaking down everywhere: the heating system, water circulation, ventilation, air conditioning. The greenhouses are drying up. The fish tank is emptying. We are taking stock of the remaining food and drinking water supplies. On the Enterprise NCC-1701 it is the moment when Captain Kirk brings Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott up onto the bridge. Is it not time to call on our very own "Scotties" - our geologists, seismologists, oceanographers and other Earth science experts?