The sight of Mother Earth hanging out there all exposed and alone (so far as we know) against the blackness of space helped spark the environmental movement when photos were broadcast back to the ground back in 1972 by the astronauts of Apollo 17.
Now, those who have been lucky enough to see this in person are working hard to convey what is at once unimaginably magnificent, terrifying and profound back to the rest of us.
“It really does look like this really beautiful oasis out in the middle of nothingness,” says astronaut Ron Garan in the short documentary below, Overview. “And if you have a chance for your eyes to adjust, and you can actually see the stars and the Milky Way, it’s this oasis against the backdrop of infinity—this enormous universe behind it.”
Since those first famous photos of Mother Earth set against velvety nothingness, we have been treated to all manner of time-lapse videos and plain old snapshots of Mother Earth from space.
Big Black Marble: From Turtle Island Electric to Australian Wildfires, Mother Earth Glitters in the Dark
Mountains, Milky Way and an Active Volcano: More Time-Lapse Video Wonder
Time Lapse: Exploding Aurora, Sweeping Milky Way, Shooting Stars
Entranced as we were by high-definition visions of the so-called Big Blue Marble and its counterpart, the nighttime Big Black Marble, there is more urgency to the revelations of the astronauts interviewed below.
The astronauts, philosophers and writers quoted in this 20-minute documentary, called simply Overview, have each had the same profound realization, one that is in fact already central to the cosmic outlook of Indigenous Peoples: We are all one. Science has dubbed this the Overview Effect, and the phenomenon has sparked not only a book and this film but also a feature-length movie being financed partly through Kickstarter.com, Continuum, being made by the Planetary Collective. NASA also has started a site, Fragile Oasis, to bring home the perspectives of Earth to be gained from space.
Back when the annular eclipse slicing through Indian country caught the world’s attention last year, indigenous sky watchers explained the respect that is due the vastness of space, especially in relation to we Earthlings. (Related: Avert Your Eyes: Eclipse Viewing Taboo in Navajo and Other Cultures)
“They’re very powerful,” said Navajo ethnobotanist Arnold Clifford of the stars. “It’s a place of death out there. It’s a place we don’t really want to talk about, out there. It’s a place that we’re supposed to avoid. It’s a place reserved for the holy people, for specific types of holy people.”
This might sound like censure of those who would explore. But it more expresses a sentiment about the vulnerability of Earth that is echoed in the comments below.
Here are some of the major revelations of people who have looked down upon Mother Earth. There are many more, plus great footage to back it up, in the full video.
1. David Loy, Philosopher
“I think the focus had been, 'We're going to the stars, we're going to the other planets,’ and suddenly we look back at ourselves, and it seems to imply a new kind of self-awareness…. To have that experience of awe is at least for the moment to let go of yourself—to transcend that sense of separation—at some very deep level integrating and realizing their interconnectedness with that beautiful blue-green ball.”
2. David Beaver, Co-founder, the Overview Institute
“One of the astronauts said, 'When we originally went to the moon, our total focus was on the moon. We weren't thinking about looking back at the Earth. But now that we've done it, that may well have been the most important reason we went.’ ”
3. Edgar Mitchell, Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 14
“I had studied astronomy and studied cosmology and fully understood that the molecules in my body and the molecules in my partners' bodies and in the spacecraft had been prototyped in some ancient-generation stars. In other words, it was pretty obvious from those descriptions, we're stardust. Well that was pretty awesome, and powerful.”
Mitchell went on to found the Institute of Noetic Sciences, which studies the physics of interconnectedness and consciousness.
4. Ron Garan, Astronaut
“When we look down on the Earth from space we see this amazing, indescribably beautiful planet. It looks like a living breathing organism, but it also at the same time looks extremely fragile…. It really is striking and it really is sobering to see this paper-thin layer and realize that that little paper-thin layer is all that protects every living thing from the harshness of space.”
5. Frank White, author, The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1987, 2nd Edition 1998), and founder of the Overview Institute
“Many of the ancient wisdoms of the earth have pointed to what we call the Overview Effect. That is to say they have realized this unity, this oneness of all life on earth and of consciousness and awareness…. We have to start acting as one species with one destiny. We are not going to survive if we don't do that.”