Saturday, April 22, 2017

Thirtieth anniversary of The Overview Effect's publication

This is a pretty big year for anniversaries!

In a personal vein, I am pleased to be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the publishing of The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution. In addition, it is the 60th anniversary of the launching of Sputnik, the first human-made object to travel into orbit around the Earth. Moreover, it is the 400th anniversary of the publication of Sir Isaac Newton's Principia, which first enunciated the Laws of Gravity.

I don't mean to compare my book with the technological achievement of Sputnik, or the intellectual accomplishment of Principia, but I am happy to celebrate all three events this year.

I was really happy when The Overview Effect came out because I had been working for many years to have one of my books published. However, I also had very high expectations for sales and hoped to begin a revolution in how people viewed spaceflight with its publication.

It now appears that the revolution might indeed take place, but 30 years after the hoped-for event.

I was probably naive to think that the shift would happen overnight, and there is still a long way to go. However, the most important thing is that it happen before we irretrievably damage our planet and ourselves, and make the same mistakes as we move out into the solar system.

(To be continued)

Copyright, Frank White, 2017, All Rights Reserved

The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution is available at and 

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

Competing Visions (6)

Elon Musk offers a clear vision of what he wants to accomplish and why. He wants to create a city on Mars that would have a population of up to a million people. The reason is that he wants to be sure there is an "insurance policy" in case something happens to the Earth. He is concerned about an "extinction event," like an asteroid hitting our home planet.

It is hard to argue with Elon's logic. We would go to Mars as a species, then, for the same reason that we buy life insurance as individuals. Since I have to die for the insurance to be collected, I will not benefit from it, but my family will. Similarly, if this generation invests in a Mars mission, we might not benefit, but humanity will.

The other "plus" for Elon's mission is that it has worked as a way to generate public support for his vision. While most of us really don't understand rocket engines, and a lot of people don't really understand how far away Mars is, or how difficult it would be to live there, we do understand survival of our species.

The question for Elon is, "Why Mars?" Why not a settlement on the moon, which is much closer, and would accomplish the same purpose. Is it because we "have been there and done that?"

In fact, we have seen over the years that Mars holds an allure for Earthlings that is both strong and mysterious, and that may have something to do with Elon's decision to focus his attention there. It doesn't negate the "insurance policy" rationale, but it does suggest that there may be other motivations at work.

More on this topic later...

(To be continued)

Copyright, Frank White, 2017, All Rights Reserved

The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution is available at and 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Competing Visions (5)

The Overview Effect hypothesis originally focused on a group of people who did not yet exist, i.e., those who might fulfill the O'Neill vision and live in space settlements located at, say, L5. This is a good opportunity for me to make something very clear: I did not suggest that these space pioneers would experience a sense of awe and wonder, or that they would become instantly enlightened.

I suggested that space settlers would take for granted something that has taken human beings thousands to years to grasp: there is a unity and oneness to our planet, and we are a part of the whole system we call Earth. Since there were no space settlers when I began this work in the 1980s, I interviewed astronauts as proxies for those who would live off the planet in the future.

As I talked with astronauts, I was able to confirm the original hypothesis, but there seemed to be much more going on. They were impressed with the lack of borders and boundaries on our home world (other than those we create in our own minds or through uses of the land), and they were struck by how thin the atmosphere was. By the time the first edition was published in 1987, it had become clear to me that astronauts returned to Earth with a greater concern for the environment, world peace, and humanitarian issues.

What began as an exploration of the psychology of space settlements began to focus back to life on the surface, and the next two editions of the book did not change that perspective. In retrospect, I think the discovery of the Overview Effect as an experience that will change both people on Earth and those who live off the planet is serendipitous, as the exploration of ideas often is.

Now, though, it is time to begin looking outward at the mass migration of humanity into the solar system, and we must ask how it is going to unfold.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Passing of Gene Cernan

I was saddened to hear about the passing of Gene Cernan, Apollo 17 commander and last person to walk on the moon.

Gene was very helpful to me when I was writing The Overview Effect. In particular, he, along with Edgar Mitchell, pointed out the differences in the astronaut experience between being in Low Earth Orbit and going to the moon. In Cernan's words:

"Being a quarter million miles out in space has to give you a different perspective. Anyone who denies it has missed something. Being in Earth orbit vs going out beyond must be separated. Philosophically, we really have had two different space  programs." (1)

He goes on to talk about how the astronaut is moving rapidly around the Earth when in orbit, while he is moving away while on the way to the moon or on the way back from the moon. Then, of course, there is the experience of being on the surface of the moon and seeing our home planet in the sky.

Of that, Cernan said:

"When I was on the moon somewhere out there in the universe, I had to stop and also ask myself, 'Do you really know where you are in space  and time and history?'" (2)

If you are interested in the distinction between the astronaut experience in LEO and on a lunar mission, I strongly recommend reading the interview with Gene Cernan in The Overview Effect.

You might also enjoy Cernan's book about his experiences, The Last Man on the Moon.

It is highly readable, and provides great insight not only into the Overview Effect aspects of the Apollo program but also what it was like to be an astronaut during the heady time of the late 60's and early 70's.

I find myself feeling increasing sadness as we lose more and more of the Apollo astronauts. There were not many of them to begin with, and each year seems to bring another passing. It is difficult to think of this elite group of people as mortal, but in a way that is the whole point of space exploration and the astronauts who carry it out: they are mortal and fallible, they are, well, human like the rest of us. And yet, as part of one of the greatest "central projects" of our time, they accomplished something that seems superhuman.

As we move out into the solar system, we should always remember that brave people like Eugene A. Cernan showed us the way and through their example, said, "You can do it, too."(1) 

(1) The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, F. White, AIAA, Reston, VA, 2014, p. 183.

(2) Ibid, p. 184.

(c) Copyright, Frank White, 2017, All Rights Reserved

The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution is available at and 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Competing Visions (4)

I was very involved in the Space Studies Institute (SSI) and my work with the space settlement movement led directly to the discovery of the Overview Effect.

The great benefit of SSI was that they wanted input from everybody, not just scientists and engineers. O'Neill envisioned a space settlement as a community of human beings who would do everything that people on Earth did, including writing poetry and novels, and debating political and economic issues.

After trying unsuccessfully for years to find a way into space exploration with a degree in the social sciences, I found that SSI welcomed me and was interested in my "human systems theory" about space settlement. I delivered my first major paper on space exploration and development at the SSI conference in 1981. It was called "Understanding Space Settlements as Human Systems," and it was well received.

At some point in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I took the plane flight that changed my life. I was pretty much obsessed with space settlements at this point, and as the plane flew west from Boston, I was thinking about what it would be like to always live off the Earth. At the same time, I was staring out the window and noticing how seamless everything appeared to be. There were no borders and boundaries between the states, like the maps to which we have grown so accustomed. Everything appeared to be seamless and whole.

I had other insights that are described in my book, The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution. The key for our purposes here is that I realized the following: "Everyone living in an O'Neill space settlement will always have an overview of the Earth. They will always know that the planet is unified and is a whole system. They will take for granted insights that we have struggled to attain for centuries."

At that moment, I called this experience "the Overview Effect" and set out to determine if it offered a valid hypothesis about the future of space exploration and development.

(To be continued)

(c) Copyright, Frank White, 2017, All Rights Reserved

The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution is available at and 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Competing Visions (3)

Not long after the Apollo 11 landing on the moon, a professor at Princeton University asked one of his classes, "What is the best way for human beings to live off of Earth?"

At the time, most people assumed the answer would be a planetary surface, like Mars, or perhaps the moon. Gerard K. O'Neill and his class turned this assumption on its head by developing the idea of free standing space settlements built from extraterrestrial materials and set between the Earth and moon or the Earth and the sun.

At these Lagrange Points, especially L5, as it became known, the gravity of two large bodies like the Earth and the sun are perfectly balanced and whatever is at that point will have an enviable stability even though it is apparently floating in free space.

This insight led to the creation of the Space Studies Institute (SSI), which was active in the 1970s and 1980s, and became fertile ground for many innovative ideas about space exploration and development. Many of those of us who becamse "space advocates" considered ourselves to be "Gerry's Kids," in honor of his great influence on us. An activist organization, the L5 Society, flourished for several years as an offshoot of SSI.

We should bear in mind that O'Neill's vision for space settlement embodied a strong environmental component. He advocated moving all heavy industry off of the home planet into space, and he also supported the use of space-based solar power satellites to bring the sun's energy to everyone on Earth. These were positive side effects of the main theme of human settlements of up to 10,000 people in free space.

(To be continued)

Copyright, Frank White, 2016, All Rights Reserved.

The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, AIAA, 2014, www.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Thoughts on "Earthrise"

For many of us, Christmas Eve has always been a very special time, either because of our spiritual path or because it is a time for celebration and gift-giving

For those of us enanomored with space exploration and its impact on human consciousness, this day has taken on new meaning: it marks the moment when we saw our home world in a radically different way, as a planet "rising" above another celestial body---the moon. The impact of that moment in the history of the Overview Effect, now close to 50 years ago, cannot be overemphasized.

For Americans, 1968 had been a terrilble year. It began with a bloody turning point in the Vietnam war, known as the Tet Offensive. In January, the guerrilla fighters of the National Liberation Front (aka Viet Cong) had staged a surprise uprising throughout South Vietnam that included Viet Cong running through the halls of the American Embassy in Saigon. We had been told repeatedly that the US was winning the war, but the Tet Offensive suggested, in dramatic fashion, otherwise.

 For those of us who had opposed the war, this was a sad vindication that it was probably not winnable by the South Vietnamese, even with an enormous American troop presence. Many of us rallied to the cause of Eugene McCarthy, an anitwar senator from Minnesota, who ran against President Johnson in the Democratic presidential primary. Eventually, Johnson saw the light, announced he would not run again for the presidency, and opened negotiations with the North Vietnamese and NLF in Paris.

In the meantime, though, we had to endure additional shocks with the assassinations of Martin Luther King, the great advocate of non-violence and civil rights, and Robert Kennedy, who had entered the race for the presidency. After the King shooting in April, major cities in the US were convulsed by riots, and troops were sent in to quell the violence. Our nation was fighting a two-front war, and we seemed to be losing. The loss of Bobby Kennedy added to the grief we had felt when his brother had been assassinated in 1963.

Then came Apollo 8. One of the reasons this Apollo mission had such an impact was that it came, like many events in 1968, as a surprise. Apollo 8 was not originally intended to travel to the moon, but NASA feared the Soviet Union were planning a crewed mission that would go, and decided at the last minute to preempt their rivals. Instead of being an orbital mission designed to safely test out components needed for a moon landing, Apollo 8 left Earth orbit and headed out to circle our satellite, the first crewed mission to travel so far.

The "Earthrise" photo was not the first "Overview Effect moment" on the voyage. The initial shocking action of the three astronauts was to turn their cameras around when they were on their way out  and show us the whole Earth.

I remember the moment well. I was in London, staying at the home of friends, and we were watching television when it happened. Given how the year had played out, we were not in a festive mood, even though it was almost Christmas. When the astronauts showed us the Earth from a distance, we really didn't know what to say. I have interviewed many astronauts since then about their experiences, and I believe I felt something like they describe when they first see the planet from orbit, on the way to the moon, or from the lunar surface.

Since you have no reference point, no comparable experience with which to compare this one, you have no words for it at the time. Only later are you able to describe it. That seems to have been true of the astronauts, and it has certainly been the case for me.

Then, on Christmas Eve, there was Earthrise, not only the photo and video of it but also the reading of Genesis by the astronauts as they rounded the moon. For the first time in a lng while, I began to feel some hope for my country, my species, my planet. I wrote quite a lot about Apollo 8 in The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution.

As I discuss in the book, from an Overview Effect perspective, the key to Apollo 8 is that it was the first time humans had seen the Whole Earth and shared that view with everyone on the planet. And there is a significant difference between seeing the Earth from orbit and seeing it from a greater distance.

I have also written a lot about this mission and the other Apollo missions in The New Camelot: the Quest for the Overview Effect, soon to be published by Apogee Books. This book portrays our Apollo astronauts as similar to the Knights of the Round Table, with the "holy grail" of our time being the Overview Effect.

Finally, the "Overview" film produced by Planetary Collective focuses its opening comments on Apollo 8 and Earthrise. It is only 19 minutes long and well worth watching:

So 2016 has been another difficult year, not only for the United States but for the world. Never have we needed the Overview Effect perspective more than we do today. Never have we needed to apply Overivew thinking to planetary problems more than we do today.

I hope you will join me and my colleagues at the Overview Institute (  in the great effort to "bring the Overview Effect down to Earth" and make a difference in the lives of billions of people and all the sentient beings who are members of the crew of Spaceship Earth.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!

Copyright, Frank White, 2016, All Rights Reserved.

The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, AIAA, 2014, www.