The Overview Effect and Other Musings on Earth and Humanity, According to Space Travelers

When a human looks back at the Earth as a whole from a distance in space, it is said to ignite a euphoria where one experiences a shift in perception and awareness, often referred to as “the overview effect”. Often described as coming as a rush of waves, one is said to feel truly and deeply connected to the unity and oneness all things, met with an overwhelming feeling of vulnerability in witnessing the fragility of our precious ecosystem. Below are a few of our favorite reflections inspired by this phenomena, as summarized by those who have ventured up and off of our utopian planet.

“The actual experience exceeds all expectations and is something that’s hard to put to words … It sort of reduces things to a size that you think everything is manageable … All these things that may seem big and impossible … We can do this. Peace on Earth — No problem. It gives people that type of energy … that type of power, and I have experienced that.” -Anousheh Ansari, Space Tourist

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.’” -Edgar Mitchell, Astronaut

“I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of, let’s say 100,000 miles, their outlook would be fundamentally changed. The all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument suddenly silenced.” -Michael Collins, Astronaut

For a stunning visual account of the Overview Effect, check out Planetary Collective’s short film.

”As I looked down at the Earth — this stunning, fragile oasis, this island that has been given to us, and that has protected all life from the harshness of space — a sadness came over me, and I was hit in the gut with an undeniable, sobering contradiction. In spite of the overwhelming beauty of this scene, serious inequity exists on the apparent paradise we have been given. I couldn’t help thinking of the nearly one billion people who don’t have clean water to drink, the countless number who go to bed hungry every night, the social injustice, conflicts, and poverty that remain pervasive across the planet. Seeing Earth from this vantage point gave me a unique perspective — something I’ve come to call the orbital perspective. Part of this is the realization that we are all traveling together on the planet and that if we all looked at the world from that perspective we would see that nothing is impossible. Your definition of the word ‘home’ would rapidly expand to encompass the planet in its entirety, and for the first time, you might fully understand what it means to be one human family.” -Ron Garan, Astronaut, Astronaut

“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” -Neil Armstrong, Astronaut

“Since that time, I have not complained about the weather once single time. I’m glad there is weather. I’ve not complained about traffic, I’m glad there’s people around… boy we’re lucky to be here. Why do people complain about the earth? We are living in the Garden of Eden.” -Alan Bean, Astronaut

“As we got further and further away, it [the Earth] diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man.” -James B. Irwin, Astronaut

“I think the one overwhelming emotion that we had was when we saw the earth rising in the distance over the lunar landscape . . . . It makes us realize that we all do exist on one small globe. For from 230,000 miles away it really is a small planet.” -Frank Borman, Astronaut

“I realized up there that our planet is not infinite. It’s fragile. That may not be obvious to a lot of folks, and it’s tough that people are fighting each other here on earth instead of trying to get together and live on this planet. We look pretty vulnerable in the darkness of space.”-Alan Shepard, Astronaut

“Looking outward to the blackness of space, sprinkled with the glory of a universe of lights, I saw majesty—but no welcome. Below was a welcoming planet. There, contained in the thin, moving, incredibly fragile shell of the biosphere is everything that is dear to you, all the human drama and comedy. That’s where life is; that’s where all the good stuff is.” –Loren Acton, Astronaut

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Carl Sagan, Astronaut, from his book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

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