Fragile Oasis

Connecting Space and Earth: Learn. Act. Make a Difference.

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The Overview Effect: I Think It Works Both Ways

It’s been a long time since my last blog entry here on Fragile Oasis. Actually it’s been since March, which was right about the same time as my friend Ronnie Garan was getting ready to launch on his space station adventure to the ISS. In the past 5+ months that he has been up there he has shared some really wonderful things with us from his special vantage point in space. So I figured there really wasn’t much more I could add from my place here on the planet --- well, that is, until now.

Today, my friends Ronnie and Sasha and Andre’ will be making their way home in their Soyuz capsule, so I wanted to share something I learned from their Expedition and from the things they’ve shown us. Sorry, this could be a long one.:)

“The Overview Effect”
“A term coined by space philosopher and writer Frank White, which refers to the experience of seeing firsthand 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. From space, the astronauts tell us, national boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide us become less important and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this “pale blue dot” becomes both obvious and imperative.”

“Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it!” -- Yuri Gagarin

This “effect” of spaceflight has been reported since the first human, Yuri Gagarin, left the planet over 50 years ago, and has continued until today. This is a response from astronauts/cosmonauts/taikonauts/angkasawan of all nations --- it doesn’t matter where you come from, this is a HUMAN response.

"As we got further, Earth diminished in size. Finally, it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful you can imagine. That warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble. Seeing this has to change a man." -- James B. Irwin, Apollo 15

"The stark contrast between the beauty of our planet and unfortunate realities of life for many inhabitants reaffirmed the belief I share with so many. Each and every one of us has the responsibility to leave it a little better than we found it." -- Ron Garan, STS-124 & Soyuz TMA21

Shortly after arriving to space my first time, I used my NASA blog to reflect on my feelings about seeing our planet from that very special vantage point:

“It’s still very surreal to me that I am living on the ISS and that I can see our planet from this 200 mile vantage point and circling it once every 90 minutes. And for me, like others before me, I am totally surprised and in awe of the overwhelming, glowing beauty of our planet. Our Earth glows like a colorful light bulb against the blackest black I’ve ever seen. Everyday up here I am blessed with the opportunity to spend some time looking out the windows towards home and seeing things I never would have expected. Moving around the planet every 90 minutes, with the orbit slightly shifting and taking us over someplace new, with the sun rising and setting gracefully across the horizon every 45 minutes, the moon brilliantly popping into view and then squishing as it sets into the thin glowing blue line of our atmosphere. I can’t help but look at the Earth and see anything other than this living, beautiful thing, that always seems to be sharing some changing emotion or different side of its personality with me – sometimes very calm and peaceful and other times very dynamic and aggressive, but always silently asking to be taken care of.”

Ronnie has worked very hard during his time on station to use the orbital perspective to help inspire people to go out and make a difference; to help make life better for everyone sharing space on this fragile oasis called Earth. He very successfully managed to incorporate these sentiments into everything he did up there. So I, for one, just wanted to thank him for doing that for us.

The ISS is a wonderful, spectacular orbiting laboratory and home. For the past 10+ years there have been people continuously living and working in space – orbiting above us for over a decade!! It is a testament to the success and positive impact that can be made when we challenge ourselves to do difficult things. And this is a challenge on a global scale. The largest and most complex international scientific project in human history! Everything about the space station has benefits to us both on and off the planet. It is certainly the perfect example of a project that is helping make life better here on Earth – life better for humanity.

As I have watched over these past months, with my feet firmly planted on the ground, as my friends passed above me on this shiny point of light crossing the night sky, it occurred to me that this idea of an Overview Effect might just work both ways --- not only for those looking in amazement, appreciation and awe at our planet; but also for those looking up to the sky at the wonders orbiting us there. It seems that both perspectives remind us of the fragile nature of where we live – Earth with its thin blue atmosphere and ISS with its thin silver hull – both protecting their humans from the harsh vacuum of space; both reminding us that wherever humanity chooses to ‘reside’, we are obligated to take care of that place – our home.

Godspeed and Safe Travels Home Ronnie, Sasha & Andre’!
See you soon!!