Apollo 8 and the Overview Effect: Part Two

December 24, 2018 at 12:39 pm by Frank White

Many contemporary commentators on the Overview Effect imply that it began with the Earthrise photo. They say things like, "When humans first saw the Earth from space..." as if it was at that moment on the Apollo 8 mission that the Overview Effect became a reality.

In fact, it was on the Apollo 8 mission that we first saw the whole Earth from space in an image sent to us by astronauts (there had been some less remarkable photos sent by probes that were not piloted).

However, strictly speaking, the first true experience of the Overview Effect took place when Yuri Gagarin went into orbit in 1961.

However, this perception is a testimony to how powerful this image really is. The iconic picture snapped by Bill Anders, with a little help from his fellow crew members, has taken its place among media that have reshaped our views of ourselves and our place in the universe. Alongside that photo is "the Blue Marble" picture shot by the Apollo 17 crew in 1972 and the "pale blue dot" image transmitted to us by the Voyager I spacecraft in 1990.

In terms of impact, "Earthrise" has been highly significant. At a recent conference in the Netherlands, Big History expert Fred Spier gave a talk on how the photo was received in the United States and abroad. He also told us that it changed his life and set him on the path of attempting to grasp "the big picture" ever since.

A few days ago, four astronauts and their colleagues held a celebration of Earthrise at the Kennedy Space Center and launched the Constellation Foundation and its new project, "Earth2068." The Overview Effect has been  referenced as an inspiration for the event and Nicole Stott and Ron Garan, two astronauts who were interviewed for my book, are founders. (Ron wrote the foreword to the third edition of The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution and Nicole has written the foreword to the fourth edition.)

These are just a couple of the ways that Earthrise has influenced subsequent events since that difficult year, 1968. We have just gone through another difficult year for many people on Spaceship Earth. However, speaking as one who experienced both 1968 and 2018, can I say our world is better because of that photo?


Copyright, Frank White, 2018, All Rights Reserved

The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution is available at aiaa.org and amazon.com 

The New Camelot: the Quest for the Overview Effect is available at Apogee Prime