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Word of the Day: RUIMTEVAARDER, spaceman

‘We are all Astronauts of Space Ship Earth’, the first Dutch spaceman wrote in his last farewell letter, just before he died last Sunday, 18 May 2014. His name? Wubbo Ockels! In 1985 this amiable Dutchman who was born in 1946 stepped into the Challenger and spent seven days and 44 minutes in space. Ever since that week Wubbo has been our hero!


From his space shuttle he reported to us about the beauty of our blue planet. He saw how vulnerable our planet really is and realized that something should urgently be done to preserve earth and its nature. And the rest of his life was dedicated to a world shattering project to save our planet. In his last testimony he wrote:

‘Space flight has held a mirror in front of us of Humanity. We really see now where we are: On a beautiful planet, with unequalled life support. An Earth of which we cannot live without. An Earth which has no spare. We are all Astronauts of Space Ship Earth.’

And so he pleads for a new religion, a religion which professes a belief in in humanity itself: An awareness of where we are and what the Earth means to us and what our beings bring to our environment. The close connection of humankind and Earth.’

We zijn allemaal ruimtevaarders van het ruimteschip Aarde’, how true this is. Just saying this conjures up images of people whizzing in incredible speeds through the milky way. And yet, when I look outside as I am typing this Word of the Day and look at noisy children playing in the sun, this mystical awareness seems so distant.

RUIMTEVAARDER, I love the word. It is so much nicer than Astronaut (which usually refers to western spacemen) or Cosmonaut (which makes me think of Russian spacetravellers).

The word RUIMTE (space) is derived from the word RUIM and of course you’ve recognized the English word ‘room’ to which it is related. In the early Middle Ages the Germanic word RUIM ( a ‘het-woord’) was used for enclosed spaces, especially the ship’s hold. In fact, the Dutch still talk about ‘het ruim van een schip’.

The second part of the word RUIMTEVAARDER is related to the verb ‘varen’ which now refers to ‘sailing’ but originally just meant to ‘go’ or ‘travel’. You can still see echoes of this word in the English verb ‘to fare’. When we say ‘vaarwel’ (farewell), we wish someone a good journey, not necessarily across water or the sea.

So we remember Wubbo Ockels and his eternal smile and optimism as Netherlands’ first RUIMTEVAARDER (the second one being André Kuipers). ‘Ruimtevaarder vaarwel!’ He has embarked on an eternal journey through space. On his gravestone Wubbo said he had the following words carved: ‘Mijn tijd staat stil’ (My time stands still).

Which reminds me that the first meaning of the word ‘space’ in the Oxford English Dictionary is: ‘Time which is free or available for doing something; leisure; opportunity. Chiefly in to have (also give) space.’ Time and space, Einstein taught us this, are interwoven, in fact, one and the same. Everything is interwoven. Wubbo’s last words in his testimony are: ‘Humanity, Nature and the Earth are inseparable’. We travel on in our earthly space ship in time and space while Wubbo’s spacetime has stopped.

A couple of years ago the Dutch musician Spinvis recorded a moving song called ‘Astronaut’. If you follow this link you’ll hear the song and see a gripping animation. Here is the text. Underneath is a literal translation.

Spinvis – Astronaut

Goede reis je hebt nu geen gewicht,
astronaut ga sneller dan het licht.
De planeten zingen zacht,
van het wonder dat je wacht.
kijk niet om ga steeds vooruit.

Goede reis en hou je haaks, kijk goed uit.

Astronaut, astraal verzilverd kind.
Astronaut, door duisternis omringd.
En als je soms verdwaalt.
Ga recht door en wees niet bang.

Geef de liefde wat ze vraagt,
eet de vruchten die ze draagt.
Kijk niet om ga steeds vooruit.

Goede reis en hou je haaks, kijk goed uit.

Astronaut by Spinvis

Have a good journey, you have no weight now
Astronaut go faster than the light
Planets are singing softly
About the wonder that’s ahead
Don’t look back, go forward all the time

Have a good journey and chin up, be careful.

Astronaut, astrally plated child
Astronaut, enclosed by darkness
And should you get lost
Go straight ahead and do not fear.

Give to love what she’s asking for
Eat the fruit that she bears
Don’t look back, go forward all the time.
Have a good journey and chin up, be careful.

Have a good journey and chin up, be careful.