I N T R O D U C T I O N
THE BLUE MARBLE
Hannah Arendt begins The Human Condition with a parable about the
launch of the Soviet Sputnik 1 satellite, the first man- made object ever
to break free from Earth’s surface and enter its gravitational orbit. The
launch occurred on October 4, 1957. Arendt writes, “For some time, the
satellite dwelt and moved in the proximity of the heavenly bodies, as
though it had been admitted tentatively to their sublime company.” It
was a moment of encounter with the seemingly miraculous, a techno-
logical achievement on the grandest of scales, and a symbolic reversal
of the Copernican Revolution. It was also a military event modeled on
imperial conquest that heralded the beginning of the cold war space
race. Before this race was under way, though, Arendt noted a collective
sigh of relief from Earth’s inhabitants at the satellite’s dispatch: a gen-
eral sense of optimism in the face of this “first step toward escape from
men’s imprisonment to the earth.”1
As a staunch advocate for her home planet who argued in favor of ac-
cepting the limitations that had thus far defined the human condition,
Arendt found this reaction troubling. The longing to escape the planet
and the idea that earth’s inhabitants were imprisoned or shackled to
its surface went hand in hand with the degradation of tangible, incar-
nate, sensory experience, along with the kinds of thought, speech, and
action that are made possible by embodied perception. For Arendt, the
launch of Sputnik was troubling insofar as it served as a metaphor for
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