How Seeing Earth from Space Changes You

Whenever you visit a famous place for the first time, you’re reminded that photographs and movies are inadequate representations of the real thing. A picture of the Grand Canyon cannot prepare you for the depth of it, for the slow motion of the river far below, for the way in which you can see the air as you gaze across the chasm. Given this gulf for earth-bound sights, what must it be like for travelers to space? How vastly different must it be for astronauts who’ve seen Star Trek and Star Wars and thousands of pictures taken by their predecessors when they actually get into orbit?

“I think you start out with this idea of what it’s going to be like and then when you do finally look at the earth for the first time you’re overwhelmed by how beautiful it really is,” said Nicole Stott, International Space Station astronaut.

In 1987, author Frank Wright called what astronauts experience when they look down on earth the “overview effect,” a rather prosaic term for an extraordinary and profound shift in perspective. This video, called Overview, was released on the 40th anniversary of the famous “blue marble” photo and it explores the new sense of awe and responsibility people feel when they see earth floating in space for themselves.

Although it documents, the film is not a documentary. It was produced by a group called Planetary Collective, which believes that the solution to global environmental crises is to convey the message that we’re all interconnected. As agendas go, it’s a worthy one, and it doesn’t detract from the power of the film. But if you’re like me, you might find that the real message is a renewed sense of wonder at the beauty and miracle that is our home and the lives we live on it. If that motivates you to protect it from climate change and degradation, all the better. But if it just gives you chills at the poetry of it all, that’s good, too.

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