The Wonder, Thrill & Meaning of Seeing Earth from Space. Astronauts Reflect on The Big Blue Marble

On Decem­ber 7, 1972, the Apol­lo 17 crew took a pho­to­graph of earth that became known as “The Blue Mar­ble” because of the whor­ling clouds above the con­ti­nents. Not the first image of the earth from space, it remains one of the most arrest­ing. To com­mem­o­rate the for­ti­eth anniver­sary of “The Blue Mar­ble,” Plan­e­tary Col­lec­tive, a group of visu­al artists, philoso­phers, and sci­en­tists, released the short film Overview (above) at a screen­ing at Har­vard this past Fri­day. Overview takes its title from author Frank White’s phrase for the per­spec­tive of the earth as seen from space: “The Overview Effect.” White’s book of the same name uses inter­views and writ­ings from thir­ty astro­nauts and cos­mo­nauts to build a the­o­ry about the psy­chol­o­gy of plan­e­tary per­spec­tives.

The film is a pre­lude to a fea­ture-length doc­u­men­tary called Con­tin­u­um, and it intro­duces many of that project’s themes: the inter­de­pen­dence of every­one on earth, the neces­si­ty of adopt­ing a plan­e­tary per­spec­tive, and the meet­ing of cer­tain reli­gious expe­ri­ences with the sci­ences. Through a selec­tion of inter­views with five astro­nauts and philoso­phers asso­ci­at­ed with think tank The Overview Insti­tute, one gets a thrilling and vic­ar­i­ous expe­ri­ence of what it’s like to see Bucky Fuller’s “Space­ship Earth.”  Across all of the respons­es emerge the cen­tral themes of Earth­’s uni­ty, and its fragili­ty: we’re all in this togeth­er, or else, the film con­cludes.

Espe­cial­ly inter­est­ing is the inter­view with Apol­lo astro­naut Edgar Mitchell; he comes to see his expe­ri­ence in mys­ti­cal terms, as a kind of intense med­i­ta­tive state known in San­skrit as savikalpa Samad­hi, a union with the divine. Dr. Mitchell’s attempts to inte­grate sci­en­tif­ic prac­tice and human con­scious­ness par­al­lel those of Plan­e­tary Col­lec­tive and The Overview Insti­tute, all of whom seek in their own ways to help the human race achieve a shift in per­spec­tive sim­i­lar to what the astro­nauts expe­ri­enced, a shift so well artic­u­lat­ed by Carl Sagan in his Cos­mos doc­u­men­tary series and his 1994 book Pale Blue Dot. Inspired by anoth­er icon­ic image of the earth from space, Voy­ager 1’s pho­to from 4 bil­lion miles out, Sagan’s mus­ings took a mys­ti­cal turn, but nev­er left the ground of sound sci­en­tif­ic rea­son­ing. His “Pale Blue Dot” has become a metaphor for a sim­i­lar per­spec­tive as White’s “overview effect,” albeit one con­sid­er­ably more detached. Watch Sagan’s words brought to life below by ani­ma­tion stu­dio ORDER.

via @kirstinbutler

Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.

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  • Oh, WONDERFUL! The video made me weep for those extra­or­di­nary times gone by …
    I don’t just reblog because the arti­cles are usu­al­ly too long; but I do give cred­it where cred­it’s due.

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