Overview effect

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The Blue Marble, the Earth as seen by the crew of Apollo 17 in 1972

The overview effect is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts during spaceflight, often while viewing the Earth from outer space.[1] It is the experience of seeing first-hand the reality of the Earth in space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, "hanging in the void", shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere. The effect may also invoke a sense of transcendence and connection with humanity as a whole, from which national borders appear petty.[2]


An Earthrise image, 1968. Astronaut Bill Anders recalled, "When I looked up and saw the Earth coming up on this very stark, beat-up Moon horizon, I was immediately almost overcome with the thought, 'Here we came all this way to the Moon, and yet the most significant thing we’re seeing is our own home planet, the Earth.'"[3]

English astronomer Fred Hoyle wrote in 1948 that, "once a photograph of the Earth, taken from the outside, is available, a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose".[3] After Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders' December 1968 Earthrise photograph of the Earth from lunar orbit, the Apollo missions were credited with inspiring the environmental movement, the first Earth Day being held in April 1970.[3] Hoyle said that people suddenly seemed to care about protecting Earth's natural environment, though others attribute that awareness to Rachel Carson's 1962 Silent Spring and reactions to several environmental disasters in the 1960s.[3]

The term overview effect was coined in 1987 by Frank White, who explored the theme in his book The Overview Effect — Space Exploration and Human Evolution (Houghton-Mifflin, 1987; AIAA, 1998).[4][5]

In August 2020, anthropologist Deana L. Weibel introduced the parallel term ultraview effect, a subjective response of intense awe some astronauts have experienced viewing large "starfields" while in space, and discussed the impact of the overview effect and the ultraview effect on astronauts' religious beliefs.[6]


Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin,[7] astronauts Michael Collins, Rusty Schweikart,[2] Edgar Mitchell,[2] James Irwin,[8] Tom Jones,[2] Ron Garan,[9] Scott Kelly,[10] Mike Massimino,[11] André Kuipers,[12] Chris Hadfield,[13] Sally Ride, Anne McClain,[14] and space tourist William Shatner[15] are all reported to have experienced the effect.[2]

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[16]

A 2009 photograph, sometimes called Thin Blue Line, taken from the International Space Station.[17]

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 on seeing the Earth from the Moon.[18]

Everybody in the world needs to do this. Everybody in the world needs to see. It was unbelievable. Unbelievable. I mean, the little things, the weightlessness. But to see the blue color go whip by, and now you're staring into blackness. That's the thing. The covering of blue is this sheet, this blanket, this comforter of blue that we have around. We think, "Oh, that’s just blue sky." And there's something you shoot through, and all of a sudden, as though you whip a sheet off you when you’re asleep, and you're looking into blackness, into black ugliness. And you look down. There's the blue down there and the black up there. And there is mother Earth and comfort. And up there... Is that death? I don't know.

— William Shatner, New Shepard 18[19]

Reproducing the effect[edit]

In 2018, the Spacebuzz project was created so "children around the world can also get to experience the Overview Effect."[20] It was announced in a press release on December 20 by astronaut André Kuipers on the European Space Agency's (ESA) website.[21] Spacebuzz aims 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. Spacebuzz is a project started by the Overview Effect Foundation backed by ESA and the Netherlands Space Office.[20]

In late 2019, it was reported that researchers at the University of Missouri aimed to reproduce the experience, with an isolation tank, half a tonne of Epsom salts, and a waterproof VR headset.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ *National Aeronautics and Space Administration; Douglas A. Vakoch (6 July 2011). Psychology of Space Exploration: Contemporary Research in Historical Perspective. Government Printing Office. pp. 29–. ISBN 978-0-16-088358-3. Archived from the original on 7 January 2014. Retrieved 9 February 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e O'Neill, Ian (22 May 2008). "The Human Brain in Space: Euphoria and the "Overview Effect" Experienced by Astronauts". Universe Today. Archived from the original on 28 January 2019. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d Yoder, Kate (February 9, 2022). "The Overview Effect / How the view from space might be key to saving the planet". Grist. Archived from the original on February 10, 2022.
  4. ^ "Space Tourism: Face Time with Earth", Leonard David, Senior Space Writer, SPACE.com, 2006-08-05, Space-ecotourism Archived 2010-03-07 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ De Luce, Ivan (July 16, 2019). "Something profound happens when astronauts see Earth from space for the first time". Business Insider. Archived from the original on July 28, 2019. Retrieved July 28, 2019.
  6. ^ Weibel, Deana (13 August 2020). "The Overview Effect and the Ultraview Effect: How Extreme Experiences in/of Outer Space Influence Religious Beliefs in Astronauts". Religions. 11 (8): 418. doi:10.3390/rel11080418. S2CID 225477388.
  7. ^ "Yuri Gagarin". Wikiquote. Archived from the original on 2021-03-11. Retrieved 2021-03-10.
  8. ^ Wilford, John Noble (10 August 1991). "James B. Irwin, 61, Ex-Astronaut; Founded Religious Organization". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 27 April 2019. Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  9. ^ TEDx Talks (2012-01-18), TedxVienna - Ron Garan - The Orbital Perspective of Our Fragile Oasis, archived from the original on 2019-12-15, retrieved 2018-03-17
  10. ^ Feloni, Richard (19 March 2018). "NASA astronaut Scott Kelly explains how seeing planet Earth from space changed his perspective on life". Business Insider. Archived from the original on 27 April 2019. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  11. ^ "StarTalk Live at the Bell House, The Astronaut Session". Star Talk Radio. 2012-01-29. 23:10. Archived from the original on 2016-06-02. Retrieved 2014-07-09.
  12. ^ "André Kuipers: 'It is better for humanity to live on multiple planets'". Intermediair. Archived from the original on 2020-06-03. Retrieved 2019-09-15.
  13. ^ Hadfield, Chris (23 March 2018), Chris Hadfield: How space travel expands your mind, archived from the original on 2019-07-27, retrieved 2018-03-24
  14. ^ "Astronaut describes seeing sunrise from Space for first time". YouTube. April 27, 2020. Archived from the original on April 28, 2020. Retrieved April 30, 2020.
  15. ^ "William Shatner, TV's Capt. Kirk, blasts into space". AP NEWS. 2021-10-13. Archived from the original on 2021-10-13. Retrieved 2021-10-13.
  16. ^ Chang, Kenneth (2019-07-16). "For Apollo 11 He Wasn't on the Moon. But His Coffee Was Warm". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2019-07-17. Retrieved 2019-07-17.
  17. ^ "Image of the Day Gallery / Thin Blue Line". NASA.gov. November 25, 2009. Archived from the original on November 27, 2009.
  18. ^ "Quote by Edgar Mitchell: "You develop an instant global consciousness, a ..."". Goodreads.
  19. ^ Kvetenadze, Tea (2021-10-13). "'Whoa, That's Death!' Here's Everything William Shatner Said To Jeff Bezos After Returning From Space". Forbes. Retrieved 2022-01-01.
  20. ^ a b "Spacebuzz - Creating ambassadors of planet Earth". Spacebuzz. Archived from the original on 2019-12-22. Retrieved 2019-09-15.
  21. ^ "Onthulling SPACEBUZZ, een innovatief VR-educatieprogramma" [Revealing SpaceBuzz, an innovative VR program]. www.esa.int (in Dutch). Archived from the original on 2021-09-13. Retrieved 2021-10-20.
  22. ^ Sample, Ian (26 December 2019). "Scientists attempt to recreate 'Overview effect' from Earth". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 2019-12-27. Retrieved 2019-12-28 – via www.theguardian.com.

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