The overview effect is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts during spaceflight, often while viewing the Earth from outer space.
It is the experience of seeing firsthand the reality of the Earth in space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, “hanging in the void”, shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere. From space, national boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide people become less important, and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this “pale blue dot” becomes both obvious and imperative.
The thing that really surprised me was that it [Earth] projected an air of fragility. And why, I don’t know. I don’t know to this day. I had a feeling it’s tiny, it’s shiny, it’s beautiful, it’s home, and it’s fragile.
— Michael Collins, Apollo 11
Astronauts Michael Collins, Ron Garan, Rusty Schweikart, Edgar Mitchell, Tom Jones, Scott Kelly, James Irwin, Mike Massimino, André Kuipers, Chris Hadfield, and Sally Ride are all reported to have experienced the effect.
The term and concept were coined in 1987 by Frank White, who explored the theme in his book The Overview Effect — Space Exploration and Human Evolution (Houghton-Mifflin, 1987), (AIAA, 1998).
In 2018, the SpaceBuzz project was created so “children around the world can also get to experience the Overview Effect.”It was announced in a press release on December 20 by astronaut André Kuipers on the European Space Agency’s (ESA) website. Spacebuzz aims to give children an overview effect like experience using virtual reality (VR) in order to have the same insight astronauts have when seeing planet Earth from space. Spacebuzz is a project started by the Overview Effect Foundation backed by ESA and the Netherlands Space Office.
In late 2019 it was reported that researchers at the University of Missouri aimed to reproduce the experience, with an isolation tank, half a tonne of Epsom salts, and a waterproof VR headset.