Articles tagged with: astronaut experiences

It Really is a Fragile Oasis!

Written by Frank White on Saturday, 25 May 2013.

 

When I first heard astronaut Ron Garan use the term “fragile oasis,” I immediately thought of it in ecological terms. Many astronauts have echoed Ron’s thoughts, focusing in particular on the thin atmosphere that is the only barrier between us and the vacuum of space.

 

            However, I had another understanding of the term recently, when two extraordinary events took place on the same day. First, there was a meteor strike that hit Russia, shaking buildings, shattering glass, and injuring more than a thousand people. Then, there was the too-close-for-comfort flyby of an asteroid that passed within the orbits of many of our own communications satellites.

 

            The asteroid encounter was expected, the meteor strike was not. Both engendered excitement and fear, though, as scientists let us know how lucky we were that the meteor did not explode closer to the ground and the asteroid was not in a slightly different orbit. We heard a lot about the dinosaurs and why they are no longer with us.

 

            The asteroid, named 2012 D14, is actually the more serious problem. Meteorites crash into the atmosphere every day, most of them burning up harmlessly. The danger of asteroids is that there are so many out there, and we don’t know where all of them are. The media talked at some length about mitigation strategies, which sounds plausible, but you need to have advance warning before you can try to nudge these space rocks away from our home planet.

 

            After the excitement died down, what occurred to me is that the Earth really is a fragile oasis, in more ways than one. It’s not just an environmental issue; it’s also the fact that a collision with something the size of a small car could be the end of life as we know it.

 

            As one who has long been interested in the Overview Effect, it also brought to mind something those of us at the Overview Institute have been trying to communicate for some time: we are in space, we have always been in space, and we will always be in space.

 

            We are traveling through the universe in a natural spaceship at a high rate of speed, and there are lots of other things rushing about as well: comets, asteroids, meteors, and even a rogue planet or two.

 

            It is not surprising to me that astronauts like Rusty Schweickart and Ed Lu are interested in figuring out how to save the planet from an asteroid hit. They have been out there and they’ve seen the Earth not only from space but also in space. They know that you can hold up your thumb and blot out the past, present, and future of humanity and all life. They know, in short, how precious this fragile oasis really is.

 

            For some, the message is clear: if we are to survive, we must become a multi-planet species, and that is likely to happen, perhaps sooner than we think. For others, it is asteroid mitigation to protect the planet. For me, it is both. Our true environment, as the asteroid and meteor reminded us, is the solar system, and we need to learn as much about that new environment as we can if we are going to survive an

Apollo, the Dragon, and the Overview Effect

Written by Frank White on Monday, 28 May 2012. Posted in Overview Effect, Space Tourism

Not long ago, I got up at 3:30 am to watch the Falcon rocket blast off. In doing so, I recalled the all-nighter I pulled in Oxford, England, in July 1969 to watch the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon. To me, these two missions were similar because nothing would be the same afterward. And both missions, I believe, are related to the Overview Effect and its impact on our awareness of who we are and where we are in the universe.

How can this be, you may ask. After all, the Apollo missions represented the first time we saw the whole Earth, gave us our first glimpse of "Earthrise," and helped give the environmental movement a kickstart as a major factor in shaping attitudes and behaviors on our planet. Didn’t Apollo represent the Overview Effect par excellence? And wasn’t this SpaceX launch just an unmanned cargo craft resupplying the International Space Station (ISS)? How could the two have anything in common?

Let me try to answer that question as best I can. I suppose on launch day, I simply knew that both were "historic" turning points, but I wasn’t sure how. It wasn’t until the following Monday, when the Dragon linked up with the ISS that the connection with the Overview Effect became more clear.

The most obvious link was simply in what NASA TV showed us as the Dragon maneuvered into position at an increasingly smaller distance from the space station. There, in the background, I saw amazingly beautiful video of the Earth rolling past, sometimes showing puffs of clouds, sometimes land masses, and at other times, the oceans. Of course, the NASA commentator wasn’t doing a program about the Overview Effect, so he didn’t comment on the view. He focused on the spacecraft below, the conversations among the flight controllers, and the issues that were arising as the moment of docking approached.

However, it occurred to me that many more people were watching this broadcast than would usually be the case, and this was a good thing. NASA TV often shows striking video from orbit, but they do not have a very large audience to see these images. With a larger group watching, people might have an experience of the Overview Effect for the very first time that morning, even if they didn’t know what it was!

Then, what came to mind was Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind this magnificent moment. He, too, was receiving more attention than usual on this day, and deservedly so. In response to questions about "What next?", he might have said that he just wanted to fulfill his contract with NASA to keep flying more supplies to the ISS. He said that, of course, but he has also talked about humanity becoming a multi-planet species, and his goal of sending large numbers of people to Mars.

In a flash, I realized that a long-held dream of mine might come true in my lifetime: thousands of people experiencing the Overview Effect, instead of the 500 plus that have had the experience so far.

This is the true promise of the NewSpace industry, which includes visionaries like Musk, Sir Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, Peter Diamandis, and many others. It is not the suborbital hops and space hotels, the moon missions and Mars colonies alone that really matter. It is, rather, that we will soon reach the point where as many people will see the Earth from a distance within a week’s time as have experienced it in the past 50 years.

At some point in the life of a human system, a quantitative change leads to a qualitative change. For decades, we have observed a few hundred astronauts and cosmonauts undergoing the shift in worldview represented by the Overview Effect, and we have been saying, "this is extraordinary." Now, soon, this will happen to many, many ordinary people and, through them, to society as a whole.

At that point, we will become not only a multi-planet species but also a species that is aware of its true destiny, i.e., to become Citizens of the Universe.

Thank you, Neil Armstrong. Thank you, Elon Musk. Thank you Apollo and Dragon.

An explanation of the promise of space

Written by Loretta Whitesides on Wednesday, 24 June 2009. Posted in Overview Institute, Cognitive Science

When I first came upon Frank's book in the school library in the early 1990's I felt like someone had finally put to words the part of space that I was most excited about. I read it cover to cover and took it up as an explanation of the huge promise of space, its ability to transform our current level of thinking from the level of nation states to the level of planets. I am still inspired about it to this day.

Immersive technologies for Overview Effect delivery

Written by Douglas Trumbull on Wednesday, 24 June 2009. Posted in Overview Effect

Ever since working on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, I have been on a quest to develop increasingly immersive film technology in order to give audiences the feeling of "Being There". This led to the development of the SHOWSCAN film process, which is still regarded by professionals as superior to IMAX.

Now, via emerging digital technologies I believe we are at the threshold of a wholly new kind of media immersion, both by giant screens and high frame rates, as well as by delivering high resolution imagery directly to the human retina. My goal over the next five years is to develop this new Virtual Retinal Display technology to the point where extremely wide field of view, high brightness, stereoscopic imagery will be indistinguishable from reality.

This could facilitate the Overview Effect without having to go into space, as well as expand human consciousness of an unlimited variety of experiences that go far beyond our earthly physical limitations.

The universal message of the Overview Effect

Written by Mike Simmons on Wednesday, 24 June 2009. Posted in Overview Institute, Overview Effect

Our ancestors have looked up at the night sky in wonder for thousands of years. In modern times we've learned that we share the same sky with the rest of the spherical world we live on, one people living under the same blanket of stars. The Overview Effect now conveys a complimentary and even more direct message from the perspective of space. The Overview Effect is an essential element in the attraction of our move off our planet, one that demonstrates with ease and clarity the fragility of our home and the need to work together to preserve it.

Like the universal attraction to the starry sky that encircles us all, the Overview Effect is a message that resonates with people regardless of geographic, political or cultural identification. As humanity increasingly moves into space, the Overview Institute will foster this vision of hope, engaging the majority of humanity that, while remaining Earthbound, continues to view the stars from below and travel into space in spirit.