For Hannah Arendt, the launch of Sputnik ... was ... an event “second in importance to no other.” Sputnik meant that human beings had taken a real step toward actualizing a long-wished-for goal: to escape the earth. In Arendt’s telling of the story, earth alienation is part and parcel of the all-too-human dream of freeing ourselves from our humanity. Sputnik’s launch thus signified not simply the lowering of humanity’s stature, but humanity's destruction of humanity itself.
By destroying humanity, Arendt does not mean the replacement of working people by robots or even the possibility of nuclear Armageddon. The danger Sputnik poses to humanity is something else. She names the danger “earth alienation.”
At the core of Arendt's concept of earth alienation is her imagination of earthliness as an inextricable part of the human condition. As Arendt writes, “The Earth is the very quintessence of the human condition . . . ”
For Arendt, to be human is to be earthly. We are born. We die. We make our way in a world that is mysterious. While we humans can also make and remake our human condition, our earthliness remains as the simple fact that our lives on earth are ultimately subject to fate and fortune beyond our control. The earth is Arendt’s name for that one condition of man’s world—his being a free gift from nowhere—that has been part of the human condition since the beginning of human history.
Man thinks ’cause he rules the earth
He can do with it as he please
And if things don't change soon, he will
Oh, man has invented his doom
First step was touching the moon ...