Thursday, October 27, 2016

What is "the Mars Effect?"

I am beginning to see the outlines of what a "Mars Effect" might be. It is different from the Overview Effect, but is still a way in which space exploration has an impact on human thought. It is connected with the Overview Effect as a subset of the Copernican Perspective, a realization that we are part of the solar system, an astronaut insight that was discussed in my book, The Overview Effect. Here are some excerpts from the book:

We will explore our entire solar system in the next 400  or 500  years, but we won't be able to go beyond that point. ... I believe it's possible, but it'll be a long time.

-Payload specialist Marc Garneau


Many years ago, Democratic  Senator  Spark  Matsunaga  of Hawaii  suggested  in an Omni magazine article that the American space community, led by Wernher von Braun, had its sights set on a space frontier with Mars as its outer boundary  before the Apollo program. He said, “From the beginning,  NASA planners shared  von Braun's  aspirations for a Mars mission as the primary target of our space  program. But in the spring of 1961 John  Kennedy  needed  a relatively  quick  and dramatic space accomplishment, so he sent  NASA racing to the moon instead.1
Matsunaga reminded  us that Robert Goddard, whose work in rocketry laid the foundation  for the American space program, had a vision of “the  planet Mars, red and gleaming in the darkness of space while sitting in a cherry tree in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1899. Goddard imagined  a vehicle that would take him to Mars and "spent  the rest of his life working to turn his vision into reality.2


(1) Matsunaga, S. "Marsquest," Omni, June 1986, p. 22, in The Overview Effect, p. 123.
(2) Ibid.

(c) Copyright, Frank White, 2016, All Rights Reserved

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

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Is There a "Mars Effect?"

With all the recent excitement about a human mission to Mars that has the goal of establishing a settlement there, I have begun to ask myself if there is a "Mars Effect," analogous to the Overview Effect, which is beginning to have an impact on how we think about our place in the universe.

I discussed the idea of the Copernican Perspective in my book, The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, as the realization that we are not only a part of the Earth system but that the Earth is part of the solar system, which is becoming our new environment. As we see more and more images of Mars in the media, it is a reasonable question as to whether the "Mars Effect" is a subset of the Copernican Perspective. I think it is premature to define this phenomenon, but I do believe it is worth exploring.

More on this later.

(c) Copyright, Frank White, 2016, All Rights Reserved

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

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Impact of Contact (III)

We have considered what might happen to our society if we were contacted by an extraterrestrial civilization only a few hundred years ahead of us in development. In theory, we might connect with civilizations that are much farther along than that. Imagine trying to converse with ETs that are a thousand years ahead of us, or a million, or more! The idea of such a dialogue is difficult to picture.
            The White Equation provides a way to develop an Impact Index for any level of difference between our civilization and that of the aliens. However, as we move more deeply into using the equation, it raises some significant questions about the entire SETI enterprise. The problem is this: once we imagine an alien civilization that is, let us say, more than 10,000 years ahead of ours, it seems unlikely that they will still be confined to a planet, and even more unlikely that they will want to communicate with us.

            When we look ahead at terrestrial civilization in 10,000 years, we are likely to have spread out into the solar system and perhaps far beyond its boundaries. The Singularity may have occurred, an event that takes place when artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence. Again, we would imagine that Super Artificial Intelligence, or Super AI as it is called by AI researchers, is not going to remain tied to a single planet, but would prefer to roam free through the galaxy and beyond.

To be continued
(c) Copyright, Frank White, 2016, All Rights Reserved
(1) The SETI Factor, Frank White, Walker & Co., New York, NY, 1990.
The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution is available at and 

The SETI Factor, which explores the impact of contact with extraterrestrial intelligence, is out of print, but some copies may be available at