Those lucky few who have the incredible opportunity to see the Earth from space often report the view gives them a sense of awe, unity and clarity. This perspective-altering experience has come to be known as the Overview Effect, from a book by the same name published 1987 by space philosopher Frank White.
In the Cupola on the International Space Station – a dome-shaped module with six windows that face Earth – the view of our planet has become even more spectacular for those on board. The small module is designed for the observation of operations outside the station such as robotic activities, the approach of vehicles, and spacewalks. But the direct, nadir view of Earth through the windows is what astronauts enjoy the most, and its where they go for quiet introspection about their place in space, as well as keeping an eye on events on Earth like hurricanes and wildfires.
The view from our lead image shows the islands of the Caribbean Sea, and was taken from inside the Cupola. Visible in the foreground are the ISS’s solar arrays and the docked Progress resupply vehicle. But the view of Earth shows the multi-toned waters of the Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean frame the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, and southern Florida.
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“This view of the Earth from space – the whole Earth perspective – is, I think, the true symbol of this age,” said Frank White in the short film “Perspective,” which you can watch below. “I believe … there’s going to be a greater and greater interest in communicating this idea because, after all, it’s key to our survival. We have to start acting as one species with one destiny. We are not going to survive if we don’t do that.”
Want more Earth views? Watch this stunning view of aurora taken from the many cameras on the ISS, including views from the Cupola. Also, NASA’s Earth Observatory website provides a daily dose of views from space.
Since this is an election year in the US, the thoughts of several astronauts come to mind in how a view of Earth from above might alter the perspectives of politicians.
Edgar Mitchell, Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 14, put it a little more forcefully:
“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.”— Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14