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.