The Overview Effect

Think for a second that you are not bound to the ground, but given some perspective and a vantage point from outside, above and around. What do you feel, and how do you deal with it? Do you come back changed, your priorities rearranged?

Coined by Frank White, author and philosopher, in his 1987 book of the same name, the ‘overview effect’ is a term used to describe the emotions experienced by astronauts confronted with a literal overview of our planet, looking back from orbit and absorbing the enormity of the scene and our Earth.

Emotions bubble and burst forth changing the brain, old words for the old world, expressed differently, in a new vein. Warmth for everything we are and can be, love and life; a single system connected, fragile, and affected.

And then to find words to reconcile experience with intellect, how to describe being thousands or hundreds of thousands of kilometers distant, ignorant of lands and land-grabs, surprised by the thinness of that sustaining lifeline of atmosphere, seeing the Blue Planet as just that, a planet with a surface 70% blue…

Weightless and watching as the world keeps on spinning. So slight, and singular, and self-absorbed in its orbit, Earth dwarfed by the darkness.

Think for a second that you’ve been up and come down. You speak another language now. Extraterrestrial but the parts are the same. In different ways, using different words, you strain to explain…

Respect for life, nature, and community: There is no ‘Planet B’.

‘The overview effect’ intrigues for its infinite permutations, expressions and forms. Just like the languages we love here on Earth, impossible to boil down or standardize, we can only marvel, and imagine being fluent.

Rarely considered in the initial space race, this aspect of space philosophy is growing in importance, and with the increasing commercialization of space travel (see Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, Space X’s Crew Dragon, or Blue Origin’s planned Blue Moon) we think that it is about time we all started considering the possibilities, the hopes, and fears: our sentiments in space.

Words by Clem Mulcahey Banks