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SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and the “Overview Effect” by Chris Churchill

(Originally published in the Las Cruces Sun News on June 7, 2020 – link)

This year has been one for the history books.  As we process our way through “the bad”, let us not overlook “the amazing”.  Last Saturday, May 30, 2020, two humans launched into space on a rocket and spacecraft built by a private company.  Today, we are accustomed to this spaceflight stuff and not all of us really see how it affects our daily lives. So, “What is so amazing about that launch?”  I’ll tell you, but you have to promise you will take this rocket ride with me.  It’s probably not what you’ve been told before.

First, the facts.  On May 30, American astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley launched on a SpaceX Falcon-9 reusable rocket on the Dragon space capsule from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  Two transfer orbits later, at nineteen hours elapsed mission time, they docked with the International Space Station (ISS).

So, here is the part you hear about in the press: (1) This was the first launch of American astronauts from American soil since the final Space Shuttle Endeavour (STS-135) in July 2011.  “We are back!” (2) This was the first crewed mission to the earth orbit in a spacecraft built by a private commercial firm in collaboration with NASA. “We can help NASA, and that is a game changer!” (3) This was the commercial first crewed mission to dock with the ISS.  “We made history!”

“We made history!” you are told.  “History!”  But, is that really the message here?

Let’s step back for a moment…

Today, there are some billionaires who understand that they can make history with their wealth.  Elon Musk of SpaceX, Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon) of Blue Origins, and Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic, are investing in a vision to inspire the youth of today to dream of the best of tomorrows.

What you may not have heard, is that last Saturday a nation, no a planet, of young children dusted off their old astronaut outfits, or pieced together homemade space suits and helmets, and played astronaut.  They forgot about quarantine. In their optimistic child mind, they dreamed. They spacewalked. They wondered in awe. Floating in their painted cardboard rockets, they looked down at the earth and were breathless for its beauty. They wish and hope for “that” future.  They asked their parents about Mars, the Moon, and “what’s out there?”, and their parents were left pondering with them.

You see, for one day at least, the eyes of millions were turned toward “the amazing”.

Musk, Bezos, Branson, and a dozen others are taking steps to make our history. Sure, they are interested in turning a personal profit, but they aim to build and sustain their visionary companies necessary to execute their passionate plans for the future of earth and humanity.

They know that earth and humans aren’t going to make it unless ordinary people, you, me, and our families, experience space.

You see, something fundamental changes in you, forever, once you have seen the planet in its natural habitat of space.  It’s called “The Overview Effect”, a term coined by Frank White in 1987.  This a permanent cognitive shift in awareness experienced by astronauts. You don’t see national boundaries from orbit.  You don’t see “others” or races; you see humanity as a whole.  You see “us.”  You see a living breathing and fragile orb filled with a variety of totally interdependent living creatures- and you see each as unique, fragile, and precious.  You can’t un-know it. You can’t un-feel it.

Ed Mitchell (Apollo 14) explains, “The beauty of seeing the earth as a planet, as opposed to being on it, wow… you experience things you ‘know’ but haven’t yet known. Our life is already in space; the earth is a spaceship. We have not yet brought that perspective into our society. I felt a sense of oneness, total unity with humans, our planet, and the universe. We humans are put together to understand this.”

We all want to live in security and peace and put an end racism and war.  We no longer want all the things made bare in 2020. A planet of full of people infected with the Overview Effect can do that.  I may have not convinced you. But, building a spacefaring civilization for our children is arguably the single most powerful legacy we can give.  We give them that, then we give them the Overview Effect.  We give them the Overview Effect, and they change the world


You can watch a video on the Overview Effect at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHMIfOecrlo

You can read about the Overview Effect in Frank White’s book “The Overview Effect- Space Exploration and Human Evolution” (Houghton-Mifflin), 1987.

NOTE ADDED POST PUBLICATION: Frank White, founder of the Overview  found this article and emailed me the following:


A lot of people, including me, have been trying to connect the Overview Effect with events taking place on Earth right now.

I thought you did an excellent job.


All the best,