The Overview Effect

Earth Science Overview Effect

The term and concept of the “Overview Effect” were coined in 1987 by Frank White, who explored the theme in his book The Overview Effect — Space Exploration and Human Evolution. That said, Frank White was not the first to have these sentiments as astronauts as early as Apollo 11 had experienced the effect in some sort.

The reason that the overview effect is important is that it is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some, but not all astronauts during spaceflight. The activities that would lead to this shift in awareness is the viewing the Earth from outer space. This change in perspective can be seen by photos taken during the Apollo period such as the Blue Marble that have had large impacts on humans on the ground to kickstart the environmental movement.

A great quote to explain how one feels would be:

“The thing that really surprised me was that it [Earth] projected an air of fragility. And why, I don’t know. I don’t know to this day. I had a feeling it’s tiny, it’s shiny, it’s beautiful, it’s home, and it’s fragile.— Michael Collins, Apollo 11”[1]

Outreach has included researchers at the University of Missouri attempting to reproduce the feeling through the use of an isolation tank, Epsom salts, and a waterproof VR headset.[2] Another outreach opportunity has been provided by the Overview Effect Foundation, backed by ESA and the Netherlands Space Office, which has the aim to “give children an overview effect like experience using virtual reality (VR) in order to have the same insight astronauts have when seeing planet Earth from space”.[3]

With the increase in commercial spaceflight, it should be expected that there will be a plethora of new people who would experience the Overview Effect to some degree during their journeys. Although going into Low Earth Orbit would not necessarily be as powerful and the same effect as going to the moon, more access to low earth orbit can definitely provide the experience. The more that experience this change can help change their own choices and decisions, but also be used to educate and sway others.

Astronauts from the ISS have also said that they have experienced the effect as well, which means that future journeys to LEO can have the same effect on the public. Imagine what its would mean for there to be an affordable method to show school kids or adults what it means to be someone, regardless of borders. It can be very powerful!

References And Further Reading



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