Monday, July 27, 2009


I've become a fan of NASA TV. Okay, I know it is sometimes like watching paint dry when they have those shots of mission control and no sound whatsoever. I'm thinking, "How can they make space exploration so boring?"

But then, suddenly, they switch to live shots from the International Space Station or the shuttle, and there it is, the Earth rolling past. It is what I am talking about all the time, the Overview Effect! It's what the astronauts see!

The views aren't perfect, because there is often a lot of hardware in the way, but can still be impressive. The other day, they offered commentary, which was even better. The NASA person told us we were over the Pacific Ocean, then over Saskatchewan, and so on.

Now I have an idea, and if anyone reads this, please let me know how to do it. I would like to create a screensaver that is made up of edited NASA TV videos of the Earth from orbit. Ultimately, I'd rather have live video, but this will do for now. The Overview Institute could distribute these screensavers for free, and spread the word (and the images) of the Overview Effect.

I like the concept, now I just have to figure out how to do it.

Suggestions welcomed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Moon or Mars? Why Not Both?

As I have listened to Apollo 11 commentary today, it has seemed to me that the media has decided that the best way to entertain viewers is to have a debate called "Moon vs. Mars." I am happy to see so much discussion of space exploration in the media, of course. Unfortunately, however, this debate is far too narrow, and it is not the one we should be having 40 years after Apollo 11.

Rather than discussing whether NASA, an American government agency, ought to choose one or the other planetary bodies for its next major mission, we should be discussing what our planet as a whole ought to be doing to open up the solar system as our next frontier. As I discussed in The Overview Effect, such a "Human Space Program" would unite our planet and give us an exciting new adventure, focusing our energies outward into the universe. It would be the next logical consciousness-expanding step that our species ought to take.

I have called this next step in consciousness the "Copernican Perspective." Just as the Overview Effect is the realization that we are all part of one planet, the Copernican Perspective is the realization that we are all part of one solar system. Just as we needed the Effect, we now need the Perspective.

This is why I say, "The Moon or Mars: Why Not Both?

Frank White

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Isn't It Interesting?

Yes, isn't it interesting that, at the moment when the Obama Administration is expanding the government's reach in a host of areas, such as financial services, the automobile industry, and the healthcare industry, it is contemplating a diminished role in piloted spaceflight. As I understand it, that is what the Augustine Commission has been set up to consider.

As for me, I am for a healthy and balanced public/private partnership in all aspects of our lives, and "balance" is the key word. Without the government, we would most likely not be celebrating the Apollo 11 moon landing, we would not have the Overview Effect, nor would we be using the Internet to talk about all of this on a worldwide basis. So I would like to see a rational plan for a global opening of the space frontier, with all interested nations participating (I call this the "Human Space Program.) Under this plan, there would be a role for government and a role for private enterprise. Each one would do what they do best.

Of course, there might be some unintended consequences of the American government receding from the space field. That might encourage people in the private sector to step up and make things happen. However, I don't think that is what is driving this current initiative. So I would be interested in hearing from anyone who is following the Augustine Commission and might be able to enlighten me as to where they are headed.

Frank White

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Major Milestone

Not only are we celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 flight but we also have just passed a major milestone on the current shuttle flight: the 500th human being has now flown into space.

Now, 500 people in nearly 50 years is not a great record: it's about 10 a year, on average. But consider how much impact space exploration in general and the view of the Earth from space and in space in particular have had on our understanding of ourselves and our place in the cosmos. Consider the impact of the technological "Overview Effect" in the form of satellites, which are knitting our world together in a near-seamless whole.

If the promise of commercial spaceflight proves itself to be real, and we begin to see hundreds and then thousands of people experiencing the Overview Effect directly, that will be a quantitative change that will eventually lead to a qualitative change, a revolution in consciousness, essentially.

Our colleague, Barbara Marx Hubbard, is beginning to focus her energies on the concept of a universal birthing process in which humanity begins to be a universal species. I think we're on the verge of seeing that happen.

What do you think?

Frank White

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Apollo 11 Revisited

Last night, I watched some of NASA's coverage of the Apollo 11 mission, and of the missions that led up to it. I again felt some of the awe that I experienced in 1969, realizing what an amazing achievement it was to navigate to the moon and back with 1960s technology and knowledge. I was also struck by something that Tom Putnam, director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum said in announcing that the library would be commemorating the moon landing by reproducing the Apollo 11 journey online at, starting at 8:02 am on Thursday, July 16. Putnam said, "Putting a man on the moon really did unite the globe. We hope to use the Internet to do the same thing."

As I watched the NASA coverage of Apollo 11, I realized that Putnam was right. People all over the planet were gathered around television sets watching the Apollo touchdown, and talking about it in just about every human language. And they were all privileged to see the most extraordinary event of Earthrise, as our planet hovered over the moon, half of it lit by the sun, half in darkness.

It occurred to me that, while President Kennedy receives plenty of credit for the space program in general and Apollo in particular, he may not be acknowledged enough for his contribution to giving us an experience of the Overview Effect, the sense of unity and oneness that seeing the Earth from space offers to our entire world. Reading some of his other speeches, I think he did have the sense that we are all crew members of Spaceship Earth, and that we need to work together to navigate through this vast and unknown universe. I hope his legacy clearly includes this contribution to humanity.

Frank White

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Seeing the Earth from the Moon: The Impact of the Overview Effect

Most space exploration advocates are disappointed that the United States did not pursue a more assertive space policy after Apollo 11. I can understand that, and I have some of the same feelings. In 1969, many of us could reasonably imagine that we might eventually have the option of living off the Earth, if we chose to do so. Forty years later, that original dream has become a distant memory, though most of us haven't given up on it, even now.

However, I have come to believe that there may have been a subconscious reason for stopping at the moon: the impact of seeing the Earth from that perspective and experiencing a new, more powerful version of the Overview Effect. In my mind, the Apollo 8 mission, which took place in December 2008, represented the first moment when many of the inhabitants of the Earth saw the planet as a shining jewel suspended against a backdrop of stars, with the dark universe beyond. The Apollo 11 mission reinforced the experience, as we watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, live on TV, working on the lunar surface with the Earth hanging in the sky above them. One poet wrote about it at the time, asking the question of the Earth, "What are you doing in the sky?" It was a change in viewpoint that is difficult to grasp even now.

Is it possible,then, that humanity, as a species, realized that we were not ready, in the early 1970s, to leave our planet of origin and venture out into the solar system? Did we somehow understand that, for our future solar civilization to be successful, our emerging terrestrial civilization needed to be more stable and mature? Did we determine, without saying it, that we needed to understand the message of the Overview Effect more fully?

In the words of shuttle astronaut Joe Allen, "With all the arguments, pro and con, for going to the moon, no one suggested that we should do it to look at the Earth. But that may in fact have been the most important reason." (The Overview Effect, AIAA, 1998, p.215)

I am not one of those who believes that we should perfect our terrestrial civilization before moving out into the solar system. If we do that, we will never leave the planet. However, I do think that a stable global civilization with a clear vision of its evolutionary future offers the firmest possible foundation for future exploration. Regardless of the conscious or subconscious reasons that we stopped at the moon after Apollo, we have now had 40 years to become more environmentally conscious, to reduce the threat of nuclear war, and to understand the larger meaning of human evolution into the universe.

As we approach the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, perhaps we should celebrate it not only by looking back but also by looking forward. Perhaps we should engage in a much deeper dialogue about what that moment on July 20, 1969 meant and why the past four decades have unfolded as they have. Perhaps the story we have told ourselves these many years is missing some important elements.

I will continue this line of thought in my next post.

Frank White

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Why We Stopped at the Moon

Apollo 11 represented an incredible triumph of human ingenuity. Less than a decade after President Kennedy announced that we would send a man to the moon and return him safely to Earth, we had done exactly that.

Several Apollo missions followed, the last one taking place in 1972. President Nixon asked Vice President Agnew to head up a commission that would decide how the United States would build on the success of Apollo. Agnew's group recommended an aggressive move out into the solar system, including human landings on Mars. It made sense at the time, and seemed a natural next step, but the war in Vietnam, money problems, and the fall of both Nixon and Agnew for ethical violations scuttled these ambitious plans. Instead, Congress gave enough money only to begin the shuttle program.

These are the conscious reasons usually given for the retreat from the moon back to Earth orbit. However, I think there are other subconcious reasons why we stopped at the moon, and are only now beginning to plan a return.

I will discuss these reasons in my next post.

Frank White

Friday, July 10, 2009

Apollo 11's 40th Anniversary

On July 20, we will celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon.

People will write millions of words about this central event of our time, but will anyone ask and answer the big question: how did this event affect our consciousness, how did it change our awareness of our place in the universe? A second question, which is naturally linked with the first, is this: why haven't we gone farther into the universe with human exploration? If we were on the moon from 1969 to 1972, why aren't we on Mars now?

I suspect that a number of people will ask these questions, but I wonder who will have the best answer? Or the most satisfying answer?

I think that, while I may not have the best answer to these questions, I might have some unique perspectives on them, which I will share in the coming days. leading up to the anniversary itself.