This is the View You Get Staring out of the Space Station’s Cupola Module

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.

A view of the Carribbean Sea and the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, and southern Florida. Credit: NASA

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.

NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Expedition 24 flight engineer, looks through a window in the Cupola of the International Space Station. A blue and white part of Earth and the blackness of space are visible through the windows. Credit: NASA/Tracy Caldwell Dyson

“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.”

Video caption: Ultra-high definition (4K) time-lapses of both the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis phenomena shot from the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: NASA

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
An Expedition 27 crewmember captured this cyclone over the north Pacific. Told you it’s a good view. Credit: NASA
Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004. She is the author of a new book on the Apollo program, "Eight Years to the Moon," which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible. Her first book, "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond.

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