Meet the Flipsters

Conversations on the Bridge

A Conversation with Rusty Schweickart
(The complete Flip interview, with only minor edits, not found in the book)

In 1969, Russell Lewis “Rusty” Schweickart ( spent 10 days orbiting the Earth in Apollo 9, the first manned test of the famed lunar module. He holds two degrees in aeronautics/astronautics from MIT and has been recognized by NASA with both their Distinguished Service and Exceptional Service medals. Rusty has held many corporate and government positions. He is an Esalen Institute lecturer and founder of the B612 Foundation, which champions proactive detection and deflection programs to protect our planet from future asteroid impacts.

Many children dream of becoming an astronaut when they grow up. We asked Rusty how he became one. “Ever since I can remember, I’ve been interested in astronomy and in space,” Rusty recalled. “But it was when I read about John Glenn’s mission that I made a genuine commitment to go for it. That was really the first time in my life that I had ever set my sights on something that I wanted to do and just said, ‘Give it everything you’ve got.’ I did and, luckily, I was selected for the space program. On Apollo 9, I was a lunar module pilot. That was the third flight in the Apollo series and the first flight in the lunar module. We flew ten days in earth orbit and I was lucky enough to go outside to test the autonomous backpack – another first.”

We wondered what it feels like to be outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. “Getting out of the atmosphere doesn’t ‘feel like’ anything,” Rusty clarified. “What feels like something is when you reach orbital speed. You’re quite literally falling all the way around the Earth – that’s what weightlessness is. The fact that there’s no atmosphere outside is actually irrelevant to your experience. But it feels very interesting. I remember thinking, ‘This is the first time that life has been able to leave the confines of its planetary womb and experience weightlessness.’”

We asked Rusty what else he thought about while in orbit. “There’s something about circling the earth every ninety minutes that makes you realize that – in spite of the fact that it is a big place – in the scheme of things, Earth is pretty small and fragile. By definition, we’re all connected. We depend on the same atmosphere, the same water system, and the same capability to provide food, shelter and all the other necessities of life. We’re all in the same boat, and we’ve got to take care of it.”

Those first photographs of Earth from space had a similar impact on many people. They helped to bring about a new environmental consciousness. We asked Rusty about the continuing impact of such images. “Today you can’t open any kind of a magazine, book or newspaper without seeing shots of the earth,” he mused, “and we’ve got things like Google Earth on our computers. People are no longer in the position – as they were in the late sixties and early seventies – where these images are novel. Now they’re completely ordinary. So how much continuing inspiration these views of the Earth offer, in terms of protecting the environment, is difficult to say. On the other hand, there is a completely different sense in people today that the earth is a limited place.”

Does Rusty see a transformation occurring? “I think people recognize the importance of our major environmental issues. Unfortunately, we’re now into the tougher part of the overall environmental consciousness. Unless some new technologies come along to suddenly make everything easy, we have to start changing our lifestyles. People don’t like to do that. The developing world wants the opportunity to live as comfortably as the developed world has been. And in the developed world, we want to live even more comfortably than we do.”

We asked Rusty if he sees space – or space programs – offering any solutions. “Every form of communication already has a space component to it,” he mused. “Hardly anything happens on earth today without some contribution by near-earth satellites – communication, weather, tracking... Space is very much a part of the economy of our current society. But, where we go from here is a different matter.

“I suspect that there will be some additional benefits that come from what might be called ‘deep space activity.’ Certainly, we can learn a lot about the nature and origins of life. In terms of utilitarian use of deep space, that’s still an interesting question. There are untapped resources in space, from sunlight to ore-rich asteroids.

“Ultimately, the thing I’m interested and involved in right now is the potential for protecting the earth from asteroid impacts. Impacts in the past may have allowed mammals to get a leg up on dinosaurs by wiping them out, but now we’re the ones who would be wiped out by a large asteroid impact.

We inquired about the odds of such a catastrophic event. Rusty pulled no punches. “It’s 100 percent. There’s no question that the earth will be hit by an asteroid. The questions are how frequently, and what size, and how far in advance will we know? If we have detection systems in place and properly-tuned, we can know far enough in advance to deflect that asteroid and avoid catastrophe. But whether we’re smart enough or determined enough to do that is an open question. So, that’s where I’m putting my energies at the moment.”

Does Rusty envision humans living and working in space? “Economics plays its role in all environments. Gravity will always exact a very high price for getting people from the planet’s surface up into space. We’re unlikely to ever see mass migration from Earth; it would be much too expensive. That is not a solution to environmental challenges here.

“But once two people are up there, a man and a woman, they can produce a new society. So, there will be humans in space, without question. We’re going to be able to create artificial environments in space which will keep people alive. How pleasant the environment will or can be… that’s a pretty serious challenge. The same laws of gravity and economics apply to things as well as people. If we want to have a rich society in space, we’d better be developing the resources out there and not counting on hauling them up from the Earth. People can mine asteroids, for instance, and use the materials to manufacture things like silicon solar cells in space.”

If the vast majority of us who are born on Earth will have to live out our lives here, then we need to learn how to do so peacefully and sustainably. We asked Rusty if he sees that pressure leading humanity to a new phase in its evolution. “Certainly, such pressure would cause any life form – be it an amoeba or a society – to reach out for new footholds and new territory. That evolutionary force is built into nature. The pressure we feel today in terms of limited Earth resources may very well lead to life developing off the planet as well as on it.

“In the long run, the biggest threat that humanity faces is itself; we have not yet learned how to resolve conflict without violence. We must come together to resolve the issues of our times. The earth, hopefully, will always be a place where humanity thrives.”



The Flip, by Jared Rosen and David Rippe, illuminates a clear path to a vibrant enlightened world where millions of people already live and thrive. It describes in vivid detail and real examples evidence of an upside down world in decay and a Right Side Up world of authentic beings bright with possibility.
The Flip is an owner’s manual for the twenty-first century full of insights, conversations with recognized experts, thought leaders, and visionaries, and actionable exercises and tips you can use to begin your own personal flip.

To read more about The Flip and additional interviews from other luminaries, experts and bestselling authors, please visit

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