earth from space
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
April 2, 2024 ·  4 min read

Astronaut shares the profound ‘big lie’ he realized after seeing the Earth from space

Have you ever heard of the overview effect? This refers to the perspective that astronauts experience when looking at the Earth from outer space. The effect is powerful. Astronauts say that the unique viewpoint of our planet changes your perspective on our planet and its problems. This is what they have to say.

The Overview Effect

Few people in the history of the world have ever experienced the sensation of looking at Earth from outer space. Fewer than 600 people, in fact, have had the opportunity. For those that have, they describe something called the Overview Effect. This is the perspective that you gain about life and the world’s problems after looking at our planet from space. Staring at the Earth from so far away, you see that borders are invisible and the racial, religious, and economic problems are not to be found. They also notice how thin the Earth’s atmosphere truly is. It seems impossible that something so thin is what is protecting us and keeping our planet alive. (1)

In 1968, the team of eight astronauts who became the first to orbit the moon, described this effect in its full power. Having that full view of the Earth and its atmosphere, commander of the mission Frank Borman described the view as “what God must see”. Many describe looking at the half of Earth that is at nighttime is an incredible experience. Even from space, you can see the bright city lights, a testament to the level of intelligence that exists on the planet.

“The whole scene looks somehow biological. The city has glowing tentacles reaching out in all directions to other radiant cities. The scene looks like a microscopic photograph of a nerve cell. Every city is like a giant nerve cell in the brain of the superorganism called humanity.” astronaut Ron Garan described Shanghai at nighttime.

“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.” said the Apollo 8 astronauts. (2)

Read: Nicole Aunapu Mann Became First Native American Woman In Space

A New Perspective

The Overview Effect is essentially a new perspective on life, the Earth, and its problems. Looking at the Earth from space, it’s hard to imagine that things like race or religion really matter regarding human rights and freedoms. Some astronauts also say that it is difficult to look at the Earth and see, say, Canada, where people have rights and freedoms and a relatively good quality of life. Meanwhile, you then look over at countries such as Iran or Afghanistan, which have experienced war and injustice for so many years, and truly understand why. It also often gives them a new sense of the fragility of our planet and our desperate need to protect our environment. (3)

“I saw an iridescent biosphere teeming with life,” Garan said of looking at the Earth from space. “I didn’t see the economy. But since our human-made systems treat everything, including the very life-support systems of our planet, as the wholly owned subsidiary of the global economy, it’s obvious from the vantage point of space that we’re living a lie.”

Experiencing The Overview Effect On Earth

Of course, most of us will never have the opportunity to go to space and have that experience of staring back at our home planet from the outside. That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t experience the same perspective shift while remaining down on Earth. Some suggestions are to spend some time looking out at the ocean, any ocean, and focus on just how vast that body of water is and how different things are on the other side of its expanse. 

Another option is to stand on the top of a mountain or at the edge of The Grand Canyon – it’s hard not to have your own problems, and those of humanity, seem somewhat small or insignificant. Often simply spending some time in nature can help achieve a similar sensation. So can travel, particularly when you meet new people and see incredible places both man-made and natural. There’s a power to those experiences that make you realize both how similar people are around the world, despite our differences, and also how important it is that we protect our world.

Keep Reading: The forgotten astronaut of 1969 moon landing shares bizarre way they were treated upon returning to earth


  1. The ‘Overview Effect’ Forever Changes Some Astronauts’ Attitudes Towards Earth—But You Don’t Need to Go to Space to Experience It.” Time. Jeffrey Kluger. July 30, 2021.
  2. Something profound happens when astronauts see Earth from space for the first time.” Business Insider. Ivan De Luce . Jul 16, 2019
  3. Space philosopher Frank White on ‘The Overview Effect’ and humanity’s connection with Earth.” Space. Leonard David. August 2, 2022.