The Overview Effect
“When astronauts see the Earth from space, they often experience a sense of awe and clarity known as the Overview Effect. This feeling can trigger a sense of cosmic interconnectedness, unity, and responsibility.” –"Overview Effect” (Wikipedia)
I’m a sucker for outer space. Give me a video of Hubble telescope images of distant galaxies, preferably with a haunting soundtrack, and I am in Heaven (sorta). From watching Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, to seeing Christa McAuliffe and her crew smilingly enter their doomed spaceship, I’ve been aware of the thrill, and the dangers, of these expeditions. I like to think I’d have the courage to be an astronaut, but my track record in that area is pretty dismal (I’m afraid to look out the airplane window, even when it’s still on the tarmac.) But in my dreams, I soar.
Recently, actor William Shatner was among a small group who left the Earth’s atmosphere aboard Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. This voyage, and others like it, have been called frivolities only billionaires can enjoy, and I see that point for sure. But watching Shatner, who for years played Captain Kirk on Star Trek, try to describe his experience, only to break down several times in tears, helped me see the value in sending earthlings into space. Shatner, who at age 90 is the oldest person to achieve this goal, marveled at the “blue blanket” of sky being torn away in an instant, as he journeyed into the endless blackness beyond. “Is this what death is like?” he wondered (and surely at his age he has thought much about that subject). He kept referring to our planet as so small and bright and fragile, a mere pinpoint in the vast universe. His outlook on life, I am quite sure, will never be the same.
Can I, can we, achieve the Overview Effect without space travel? And, more importantly, can we afford NOT to?
Poets and composers and artists have access to these moments of “awe and clarity,” but then so do scientists. So do mystics. Anyone who is truly aware, can get some sense of the incredible Goldilocks planet we are perched upon (not too hot, not too cold, just right to support life). Anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one, or a serious illness themselves, taps into the knowledge that we are here for just a brief and indeterminate amount of time, and that we are lucky beyond imagining to exist at all.
It is my prayer that we get really, really serious about saving our home, the Earth (and by that I mean tackling climate change as well as ending the many other atrocities we commit against our fellow humans.) while we still can. We don’t need to be on a spaceship a mile up, to look around us, and to be awed and grateful for where we are and what we have.
So thanks for sharing your deep emotions, Captain Kirk. They touched my heart.
The Vulcan hand gesture created by Leonard Nimoy (“live long and prosper”) was inspired by his Jewish heritage, and resembles the letter shin, which begins “Shaddai” (God) and “Shalom” as well.
Peace on Earth, my friends.