The Overview Effect

How looking down on Earth from above contributes to the spirit of international cooperation that has always been integral to the International Space Station

ISS Fly around views during STS-119 (2009-03-25)NASA

The International Space Station (ISS) is the unique blend of unified and diversified goals among the world’s space agencies that will lead to improvements in life on Earth for all people of all nations.

While the various space agency partners may emphasize different aspects of research to achieve their goals in the use of the ISS, they are unified in several important overarching goals. All of the agencies recognize the importance of leveraging the ISS as an education platform to encourage and motivate today’s youth to pursue careers in math, science, engineering, and technology (STEM): educating the children of today to be the leaders and space explorers of tomorrow. Advancing our knowledge in the areas of human physiology, biology, and material and physical sciences and translating that knowledge to health, socioeconomic, and environmental benefits on Earth is another common goal of the agencies: returning the knowledge gained in space research for the benefit of society.

Earth observation taken by the Expedition 44 crew (2015-08-10) by Scott KellyNASA

Among the many research activities taken on the ISS, a major focus is the observation of Earth. The presence of the ISS in low-Earth orbit provides a unique vantage point for collecting Earth and space science data. From an average altitude of about 400 km, details in such features as glaciers, agricultural fields, cities, and coral reefs taken from the ISS can be layered with other sources of data, such as orbiting satellites, to compile the most comprehensive information available.

Cassidy in Cupola (2013-06-03)NASA

These pictures of Earth do more than help further scientific research. Observing Earth from space can alter an astronauts’ cosmic perspective, a mental shift known as the “Overview Effect.” First coined by space writer Frank White in 1987, the Overview Effect is described as a feeling of awe for our home planet and a sense of responsibility for taking care of it.

Expedition 38 crew members pose for an crew portrait in the Kibo laboratory of the International Space Station.NASA

As the NASA astronaut Bob Behnken stated, "You see that it's a single planet with a shared atmosphere. It's our shared place in this universe. So I think that perspective, as we go through things like the pandemic or we see the challenges across our nation or across the world, we recognize that we all face them together."

Behnken is far from alone. Here are other ways looking down at earth has inspired a feeling of common humanity among astronauts from all countries and walks of life.

Down to Earth – Reach for the StarsNASA

"it's amazing how space unites everyone. Despite from which country you are coming from, despite your religion or your background, it unites everyone... Our objective is one: it's for humankind."

- Hazzaa Ali AlmansooriText Caption

Spaceflight Participant | Sovuz MS-15/MS-12

Down to Earth – What Else is Out There?NASA

"I felt ownership and a kindred spirit with every part of it... You do feel this closeness with every human on Earth. You have this really distinct recognition that every single person you will ever meet you have more in common with than you do different. No matter what."

- Anne McClain
NASA Astronaut | Expedition 58/59

Down to Earth – Unity of SpaceNASA

"In space you have no borders... so you start to understand that in many ways our separation on Earth is more artificial. Naturally, we are living on the same surface. So you start to feel that we are more united."

- Sergei Krikalev
Russian Cosmonaut | Mir-E04, Mir LD-3, STS-60, STS-88, Expedition 1/11

Credits: Story

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