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If You Were An Astronaut,This Is How You Will Feel After Seeing The Earth From Space

Using a loose definition of what it means to shake someone up, one thing that astronauts see in space that would shake people up — and indeed, shakes up the astronauts who see it — is the Earth.

Seeing the Earth from space gives many astronauts what’s known as the overview effect. It’s a shift in the way they see the planet (literally and figuratively), humanity, and human culture/society.

They see the Earth as a ball floating in space, unanchored to anything. “Fragile” is a word these astronauts often use to describe what it looks like. They also note how incredibly thin the atmosphere is (relatively speaking). These sights often make astronauts feel more strongly about protecting the Earth and the atmosphere to keep it habitable for humans.

Another part of the overview effect is seeing the Earth’s landmasses without geopolitical borders — without the false barriers, we see on maps that indicate where people who are “different” from you live. This gives the astronauts a greater feeling of the human race being a single, united race rather than in terms of, for example, American and Russian.

Amazingly, the overview effect tends to stay with them as a permanent shift, even long after they’ve returned to Earth. And in the meantime, it seems most people still see things in terms of resources to be exploited instead of protected and petty political/national differences. I’d imagine this is frustrating to the astronauts who have felt the overview effect.

Note that you don’t have to see the Earth in its totality to get the effect, as the Apollo astronauts did when they were over 200,000 miles away from the planet. Even astronauts in low-Earth orbit, who are far enough away to see the Earth as a giant ball, but not far enough to see all of it at once, get the effect.

In fact, the International Space Station (ISS) has a room called the cupola, which has a small dome of 360-degree panoramic windows pointing directly down at Earth. It’s a spectacular view I wish I could see someday.

As astronaut Luca Parmitano recently said in a really cool video tour of the ISS in January 2020, “If you’ve ever heard of the overview effect, this is where we get it” (at 61 minutes, 15 seconds into the video).

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