Space Exploration: Everything You Need to Know about the Overview Effect — The DGBM Taylor Family Foundation

The overview effect is a phenomenon that has been experienced by astronauts over the years. The psychological effects of space travel result in an enormous sense of euphoria gained by many in looking down on the Earth. Those who have experienced the overview effect believe we could harness this psychological switch to encourage others to make our world a better place.

Here’s what you need to know about the overview effect and those who have experienced it:

What Is the Overview Effect?

The term “overview effect” was coined by author Frank White as he traveled by airplane across the United States. White proposed that anyone who engaged in space travel would always have an overview perspective that people living on the earth wouldn’t necessarily have. This would be the result of seeing things that humans know, but few will ever actually experience: looking down at the Earth as a single system.

The phenomenon was first described by astronauts at least as early as 1970, as they tried to identify how they felt hurtling through space. It is a profound cognitive shift that is virtually impossible to fully capture in words. Looking down at our blue-green planet brings a unique sense of awareness. The artificiality of manmade national borders quickly becomes apparent, as does the incredible fragility of the planet.

Scientists have yet to identify the cognitive processes involved in the overview effect, but the phenomenon is characterized by a very strong emotional response. For many astronauts, recognizing the fragility of Earth provokes an overwhelming urge to protect it.

The overview effect is not a temporary feeling. Research suggests that the effects of this shift in consciousness stay with astronauts for the rest of their lives. There is a well-documented history of astronauts returning to Earth forever changed by these epiphanies, incentivized to effect real, positive change in the world. Here are just a few of the people who have experienced the overview effect:

The First Human in Space: Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, born March 9, 1934, became the first human to travel into space in 1961 when he orbited the Earth in the Soviet space capsule, Vostok 1. Gagarin explained that as he circled the Earth, he marveled at its beauty, experiencing an overwhelming desire to encourage people of the world to safeguard and enhance it, rather than damage and destroy its fragile ecosystems.

The First Female American Spacewalker: Kathy Sullivan

Born in New Jersey on October 3, 1951, Kathy Sullivan became the first American female astronaut to complete a spacewalk in 1984. She returned with an enduring sense of awe for all of the intricate systems that make life on Earth possible. Sullivan explained that over the course of her spaceflights, she experienced growing motivation and desire, not just to enjoy the sights and take pictures, but to make a real difference.

Atlantis Astronaut Leland Melvin

Born in Virginia on February 15, 1964, Leland Melvin served on the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Melvin speaks eloquently of the overview effect and how it changed his outlook on the world and his life.

Melvin underlines the importance of sharing his experience of the overview effect with people back on Earth, particularly children, since few are lucky enough to experience the phenomenon firsthand. He said that by sharing his unique experience with others, he could help make the planet a better place.

Melvin has cited the importance of STEAM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) in education. He believes that STEAM helps us all to take our own experiences and turn them into something positive.

While we do not yet have the technology to transport millions of people into space, Melvin insists it is vital that astronauts try-perhaps virtually-to convey their experiences. This includes the tastes, the sights, and the smells; all of the intricacies of storytelling that affect people viscerally.

Leland Melvin collaborated with other astronauts on the One Strange Rock documentary series hosted by Will Smith. The series followed the adventures of eight astronauts. They shared their unique perspectives not just on space travel, but on the Earth itself, emphasizing the fragile beauty of the planet we call home.

From vital physiological processes like breathing; to the violent cosmic storms that helped create our planet; to conservation; to the history of our world, One Strange Rock shares the insights of some of the world’s most celebrated astronauts, examining how space travel has changed their outlook on the world.

The Most Experienced Cosmonaut: Gennady Padalka

Born in the Soviet Union on June 21, 1958, Gennady Padalka has spent more time in space than any other cosmonaut in history. He spent a total of 879 days in orbit. Padalka worked on both the International Space Station and Mir before his retirement after 28 years of spaceflight.

Padalka explained that forces stronger than gravity kept bringing him home. He said that, as humans, we are genetically connected to this planet. Over the past decade, mankind has glimpsed billions of worlds across our galaxy, but there is something unique about this strange rock we live on that makes it just right for humans.

As Padalka points out, the old saying is true. If 50 years of space travel has taught us anything, it is this. There really is no place like home, at least until there is another world we can go to.

Originally published at on February 24, 2020.



Dylan Taylor is a global business leader and philanthropist. He is an active pioneer in the space exploration industry

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Dylan Taylor

Dylan Taylor is a global business leader and philanthropist. He is an active pioneer in the space exploration industry