Planet earth can correctly be compared to a giant spacecraft carrying on board more than 6 billion people and billions more animals and plants. American scientist Buckminster Fuller coined the fitting term “Spaceship Earth” to describe our planet. We are truly hurtling through space on this giant spacecraft called earth—at the incredible speed of 65,000 miles per hour! At the same time, this space vehicle is spinning at more than 1,000 miles per hour. Every year we complete an entire circuit around the sun—a journey of more than half a billion miles! We are all astronauts on a ginormous terrarium. Yet perhaps the most amazing aspect of our voyage is we don’t feel the trip at all.
As every spaceship has a porthole to view the outside, so our atmosphere acts in the same way. The transparent canopy covering the planet also houses a renewable supply of oxygen for human beings and animal life and carbon dioxide and nitrogen for plants. It also provides the proper air pressure for living things, and the outer edge of this translucent shell is composed of an ozone layer that protects life from harmful ultraviolet rays. This canopy even comes equipped with a protective a magnetic field generated by the spinning iron core at the center of our planet that deflects damaging cosmic rays and deadly solar winds. Without these features, life here would not be possible. Last but not least, this marvelous canopy contains an automatically adjusting “curtain” to shade the terrestrial orb from too much light hitting its surface. This delicate shroud is formed by clouds, which act as moving shades that cover some 60 percent of the earth’s surface at any given time.
Incredibly, no pilot is aboard, but instead we find an “autopilot” system governed by carefully adjusted physical laws. Although no one is seen physically aboard our spaceship who manages the system, our planet faithfully obeys the programmed, finely tuned commands of the myriad of physical laws and completes its year-long journey around the sun, dutifully returning to its starting point only to begin yet another circuit.
What keeps the earth in its orbit? It is mainly the gravitational force of the sun that keeps the planet on its circular path. In this cockpit, although not seen, are the equivalent of hundreds of elaborate dials, each regulating an aspect of our planet’s features. Each dial has been carefully calibrated to permit life to flourish on the planet. You can’t see the great Engineer who set up the system, but you can measure the precision of every setting—and each one is just right!
The centripetal force caused by gravity keeps the globe in its orbit. And our planet’s distance from the sun, though varying slightly, is perfect for life—not so close to the sun that we would all burn up, nor so far that we would freeze. The decaying radioactive elements deep inside the earth itself heat the planet and drive plate tectonics. Not only does plate tectonics help with the development of continents and mountains, which prevent a water world, but it also drives the Earth’s carbon dioxide-rock cycle. This is critical in regulating the environment through the balancing of greenhouse gases and keeping the temperature of the planet at a livable level. This radioactive decay also helps drive the convection of the liquid iron surrounding the Earth’s core, which results in an amazing phenomenon: the creation of a dynamo that actually generates the planet’s magnetic field.
We find the earth provides all the comforts a space traveler could desire—abundant and delicious food, plenty of water, gorgeous and entertaining scenery, a comfortable climate, challenging work and plenty of room to have a family. Our planet is a veritable Noah’s ark of animals and plants traveling on its timeless journey through space. It is a self-contained unit with renewable resources that can last, if properly taken care of, for potentially thousands of years into the future. To keep the temperature comfortable for the passengers, the planet remains in orbit at just the right distance from the sun and is designed with an optimum tilt of 23.5 degrees. This tilt permits the sun’s rays to uniformly heat the globe.
Not only does our terrestrial vessel have a magnetic force field and renewable resources, but it also has a number of accompanying spacecraft to stabilize and protect it. The first of these is our moon. Not only does it shield our planet from taking some meteorite hits, but it stabilizes earth’s vital tilt. The moon, along with the sun, also regulates our tides. The earth’s tides help circulate the water in the oceans and sweep away waste products from the coasts. Yet the moon is only the first of Spaceship Earth’s protector fleet. The two gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn with their strong gravitational pulls, also help shield the planet by functioning as giant vacuum cleaners, sweeping the solar system of dangerous comets and asteroids.
Not only is Spaceship Earth just the right distance from the sun to have a temperate climate, but its solar system is in an excellent neighborhood of stars. It lies between two spiral arms of the Milky Way galaxy, far away from the dangerous galactic core or the spiral arms, and is in what astronomers call a “safe zone.” Places with active star formation are very dangerous, because that’s where you have supernovae exploding at a fairly high rate. In our galaxy, those dangerous places are primarily in the spiral arms, where there are also hazardous giant molecular clouds. Fortunately, though, we happen to be situated safely between the Milky Way’s Sagittarius and Perseus spiral arms.
In fact, our planet is not some lucky accident since the evidence shows it was carefully designed by the Creator to be inhabited by mankind and all other forms of life. Truly, as the Qur’an says about our invisible and omnipotent Creator,
“ And the heaven He raised and imposed the balance” (Surah Ar-Rahman 55:7).