Monday, December 1, 2014

Overview Effect

Twenty-four humans have left Earth for a journey to the moon, the only humans to directly view the far side of the moon. Twelve astronauts actually set foot on the moon’s surface. Six of these drove the lunar roving vehicles on the moon’s surface. Only twenty-four men have escaped the gravity of low earth orbit. Eight astronauts ages 79-84 have walked on the moon and are still living as of this writing.

Former astronauts have communicated their emotions as they experienced the demanding launch process and bodily separation from the constraints of earth’s gravity. As their space vehicle continued beyond the launch process the demands on the astronauts in carrying out the many technical responsibilities at first overwhelmed their temptation to visually observe what was happening to them. The TLI (translunar insertion) occurred nearly three hours from launch. From that time to the Lunar orbit insertion (LOI) three days elapsed. The astronauts had time to gaze at the scenario unfolding before them. 

Different astronauts have related their emotions on seeing the Earth from space. They were overwhelmed at the beauty of our planet. Some turned the cameras back toward earth, seeing a profound view of Earth hanging in space. They viewed the stars  and sun in a dark sky. The view of the stars and the sun was profound, but not to be compared with looking back at the Earth to see the line of separation between day and night. Lightning appeared as fireworks, light from cities highlighted population centers, auroras appeared as dancing curtains of light, and meteors were visible below the spacecraft. Earth clearly appeared as a living, breathing mechanism.

Was the mission primarily a discovery process of uncharted waters? Did the astronauts look ahead, or look back on the beauty of our home planet? Edgar Mitchell “realized that the molecules of my body and of the spacecraft had been manufactured in an ancient generation of stars. It wasn’t just an intellectual knowledge—it was a subjective visceral experience accompanied by ecstasy—a transformational experience. The experience was so powerful that when he got back to earth Mitchell started digging into various literatures to try to understand the experience.” The space scientists reported they spent much of their free time earth gazing, struck with the truth that the earth is a living, breathing organism.” The paper thin atmosphere, barely hugging the surface, sustains and protects seven billion people with its fragile dynamics.

The three Apollo 8 astronauts on Christmas eve, 1968, startled the world with the recitation of Genesis 1:9-10 as they orbited the moon. Just a few months before man’s first steps on the moon, there was a riveting live television broadcast to the earth from the moon. Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders, while in moon orbit took turns reading the first ten verses of Genesis 1 while transmitting images of the earth. Included in the reading were verses 9-10, a most explicit description of earth as seen from space: And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

That live broadcast had a stunning impact on me and many other listeners.