by Zainab Yahiaoui, age 15
During research voyages in space, astronauts have the opportunity to see our planet Earth from many miles away. Countless others remain hopeful to someday have the same experience. Six astronauts, who had the chance to go into space, described their individual experiences during their time away from the planet. Chris Hadfield, Jerry Linenger, Nicole Scott, Mae Jemison, Leland Melvin, and Mike Massimino have all spent at least a week in space, if not longer. They each had different and distinct moments in space when their perspectives of the world changed, a shift which is called the “overview effect.”
One of the astronauts, Chris Hadfield, spent 166 days in space. He said his change of perspective happened quickly and that his emotions crept up on him while he was not prepared. Hadfield said in space, one has to take a lot of pictures because everyone is so busy working, there is not enough time to look outside. His “aha” moment occurred when he was taking a picture of Pakistan from the spaceship; he referred to the country as “us” instead of “them,” despite him not being from Pakistan. This event made Hadfield realize that humans are all on the earth together and are not truly divided by countries of origin.
Jerry Linenger spent 143 days in space. For him, going up into space felt like a mix of chaos and power. While he was there, he spent a lot of his time looking out the window and watching our solar system. He watched stars zoom by and saw the sun rise and set. His “aha” moment happened when he realized he was just a tiny human in this universe, and it was because of mankind that he was able to go to space. That realization was incredible to him.
Nicole Scott spent 104 days in space, during which time, being away from Earth was overwhelmingly impressive for her. She claimed to have no words to express what being in space was like. Not only the view was indescribable, but also the feeling of being up there. The best way she could explain it was by comparing the Earth to the brightest light bulb imaginable, swirling with all the colors we know and shining blinding light. This made her feel as if she could almost reach into the world. Similarly to Hadfield, Scott realized that her home was not simple where she was from in the state of Florida; instead, the whole planet was her home.
Mae Jemison spent only eight days in space. At first, she thought she would be extremely nervous to enter space. As time went on, however, she felt completely connected not only to Earth, but to the whole universe as well. This feeling reinforced in her what she believed while growing up: there are no true boundaries or borders to life.
Leland Melvin spent 213 days in space. He explained that his “aha” experience started while he was having lunch in space with the other astronauts. They were all from different countries around the world, including historical enemy nations like Russia and Germany. As they ate and listened to soft tunes, they were all able to greet the places they came from on the earth below as they sped by in space. That shared meal prompted Melvin to feel a greater connection to people in different countries and to realize that everyone in the world has much in common.
Finally, Mike Massimino spent 23 days in space. He experienced the overview effect when he first saw the curve of the Earth from above. At that moment, he perceived the planet Earth as a paradise. He said that from above, the planet looked heavenly and that he could see the real beauty of the Earth. Massimino declared that he had never seen anything more stunning in his life.
These astronauts received an opportunity that most people do not: they could look down onto the Earth from space. By doing so, they developed an understanding of the universe and their place in the world that we can all learn from. They understood more about themselves and developed an appreciation for how the earth is home to not only individuals, but to all of us as a community.
[Sources: Inverse; NASA]