Crossing the Threshold

Advancing into Space to Benefit the Earth

by Paul O. Wieland, P.E.


Book Details

Ensuring a Sustainable World

We are on the cusp of a 21st century Age of Discovery - about the Earth, about the solar system, about ourselves and our place in the cosmos - with new opportunities to address age-old challenges, as well as to meet emerging ones. While advancing into space is not the answer to these challenges, it can be a significant and vital part of an answer, providing benefits that other answers cannot.

With a thoughtful program of space activities we can ensure a sustainable world with abundant energy and resources, a high standard of living, and unprecedented opportunity for all. However, to become a widely held vision that we must pursue now, rather than just interesting ideas for some distant time, we need to see space as integral to addressing societal issues. This book shows a way to do that.

There are abundant opportunities in space, but the only way to utilize them is to go there. As our ancestors crossed thresholds to inhabit the Earth, we can cross the threshold to become a space-faring civilization, and realize the benefits of those efforts. Space is only 100 km (62 miles) away, you just need to look up.

What people are saying:

"Crossing the Threshold is a carefully considered, insightful narrative that should interest anyone and everyone who cares about the future of spaceflight." - Homer Hickam, author of Rocket Boys/October Sky

"Crossing the Threshold is a NASA veteran’s thoughtful and considered look at the value of space travel and exploration, not only for satisfying humanity’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for adventure and knowledge but also for preparing and positioning us technically to begin to solve some of the greatest problems facing us on Earth." - Henry Petroski, Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and Professor of History, Duke University, author of The Essential Engineer: Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems

"Paul Wieland knows space from the bottom-up…and offers a fresh and valuable perspective. I intended only to skim the book but became so interested I soon found myself deeply involved in reading it.” - Norm Augustine, author of Augustine's Laws, past president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, member of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, former CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation

Crossing the Threshold "is very impressive for the range of ideas and technical specifics." - Felix Godwin, author of The Exploration of the Solar System


Book Excerpt

Part I


“For forty-nine months between 1968 and 1972 two dozen Americans had the great good fortune to briefly visit the Moon. Half of us became the first emissaries from Earth to tread its dusty surface. We who did so were privileged to represent the hopes and dreams of all humanity. For mankind it was a giant leap, for a species that evolved from the stone age to create sophisticated rockets and spacecraft that made a Moon landing possible. For one crowning moment, we were creatures of the cosmic ocean, an epoch that a thousand years hence may be seen as the signature of our century.” — Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr., astronaut

• • •

IN 1956, WHEN ONLY A FEW MEN HAD FLOWN high enough to cross the boundary of space (the “threshold”) and be awarded their astronaut wings—and no man-made object had yet orbited the Earth—a dramatic movie was released about our efforts to reach space. On the Threshold of Space took a behind-the-scenes look at the program to understand the physiological and psychological effects on people of moving at high speeds, ascending to extreme altitudes, and being confined in small volumes for durations representative of space missions. At the time, it was not known whether people could even live in space, so every possible measure was taken to ensure the best chance of survival. The success of those efforts was demonstrated by the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon in 1969.

There is another threshold of space that is not physical, but rather is a threshold of awareness. Those who have been in space have described the experience in various ways. Some have recalled that on the first day, when looking at the Earth, they looked for their country, on the second day they looked for their continent, but by the third day in orbit they saw the Earth as a whole. The common result is a transformed awareness and they realize that a forest fire or oil spill in one place ultimately affects the entire planet. From the ground, we see only a tiny portion of the Earth at a time and the entire Earth seems to be quite large. From space, however, when the entire Earth can be seen against the background of the vastness of space the scale shifts, producing what has been called the “overview effect.” As James B. Irwin, an Apollo 15 mission astronaut, described the experience: “As we got further and further away, [the Earth] diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man.”

Those of us not so privileged to directly view the Earth from space have a glimpse of that experience when we look at photographs of the Earth in space. As Aldrin says in the lead-in quote, we are “creatures of the cosmic ocean.” Those who feel that truth, cross the threshold of awareness of our place in the cosmos.


About the Author

Paul O. Wieland, P.E.

Paul Wieland is a professional engineer (P.E.) who earned degrees in botany and mechanical engineering from the University of Louisville (Kentucky). From 1983 to 2005, he was a NASA civil servant at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, working primarily on development of the environmental control and life support systems for the International Space Station and other space missions. In 1991 he was a founding member of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Life Support.