Mars true-color globe showing Terra Meridiani. Credits: NASA/Greg Shirah

Mars true-color globe showing Terra Meridiani.
Credits: NASA/Greg Shirah

 

NOTE: Frank White is the author of the seminal work — The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution — first published in 1987, re-issued in 1998 with a third edition of the book released in 2014.

The Overview Effect is an on-going phenomenon that impacts various aspects of world culture in the New Space Age. One of the principal areas of shifted awareness that accompanies the Overview Effect is our view of Earth’s environment, a shift that has affected space travelers circling our planet, as well as at lunar distance.

As part of my research for writing the new National Geographic book, Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet, I asked Frank White to consider a Mars Overview Effect.

Here is a new essay by White on this topic, and I’m pleased to publish it on my Inside Outer Space website:

New Thoughts on Mars

By Frank White

Mars has fascinated human beings for centuries, and the question is, “Why?” Our connection with the Red Planet makes us wonder if there is a “Mars Effect” that draws us to it. This would different from the “Overview Effect,” which resulted from seeing the Earth from orbit or the moon.

Our attraction to Mars began with viewing it through telescopes and has continued as we have sent orbiters and rovers there. We have always seen it from a distance, and we will continue to see it from a distance until we send our first astronauts to its surface.

Percival Lowell and his depiction of Martian canals, shown in this sketch of the Red Planet, circa 1895. Credit: Lowell Observatory

Percival Lowell and his depiction of Martian canals, shown in this sketch of the Red Planet, circa 1895.
Credit: Lowell Observatory

From the beginning, people have imagined that they were seeing things there. The Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli saw lines on the surface that he called canali, (channels) which was mistranslated in English as “canals.” This in turn led to an entirely fanciful story told by the American astronomer Percival Lowell about Martians who were running out of water and desperately digging canals to survive.

This is not the place to recount the entire history of human fascination with Mars, which would include, of course, the famous “invasion” by Martians in 1938, staged by Orson Wells, which terrified a nation and set the tone for tales of extraterrestrial attacks. However, it is worth mentioning that the “father of modern rocketry,” Robert Goddard, was said to have had a vision of Mars while sitting in a cherry tree, and this led to his invention of liquid-fueled rockets.

Influence on the human psyche

Today, people are still seeing things on Mars, this time through the eyes of spacecraft orbiting the planet, and rovers on its surface. Perhaps most famous is the “Face on Mars,” which looks like the Sphinx staring up from the surface. Since rovers like Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity have been snapping multiple photos of the environment around them, people have been reporting everything from strange lights to spacecraft to beings.

Self-portrait shows NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at the “Quela” drilling location in the scenic “Murray Buttes” area on lower Mount Sharp. The panorama was stitched together from multiple images taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera at the end of the rover’s arm. The scene combines approximately 60 images Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Self-portrait shows NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at the “Quela” drilling location in the scenic “Murray Buttes” area on lower Mount Sharp. The panorama was stitched together from multiple images taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera at the end of the rover’s arm. The scene combines approximately 60 images
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Being enticed to go to Mars by seeing intriguing features through telescopes or rover cameras is a powerful component of the “Mars Effect,” which seems to draw people to a place so far away from home. Ultimately, this influence of Mars on the human psyche remains a mystery, and perhaps that is as it should be, at least for now.

Overview moments

However, as one who is interested primarily in the view of the Earth from space and in space (“The Overview Effect”), I am focused more on what space travelers will see of their home planet as they move farther away and closer to Mars. There will be several “Overview Moments” that we can expect as the human “Journey to Mars” gets underway.

The first will be when the astronauts go beyond the moon and see the Earth from a distance greater than 240,000 miles. At that point, the Earth will still be visible as a planet, but in a new and different way. It will be unique, as was the moment when Yuri Gagarin went into orbit and became the first person to directly experience the Overview Effect, and the time when the Apollo 8 astronauts turned their cameras around and showed us the whole Earth (and, later, Earthrise).

Earth From Mars image was captured in 2004 by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit on March 8, 2004. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Texas A&M

Earth From Mars image was captured in 2004 by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit on March 8, 2004.
Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Texas A&M

The second will be that moment when we can no longer see the Earth as a planet, but more like an unblinking star, the way we now see Mars. In other words, we will need a telescope to discern any details on our own planet. This will take place at some point on the journey outward, and will become solidified in the mind when astronauts land on the surface and the Earth is a constant in the Martian sky.

Copernican Perspective

Nick Kanas, MD, a psychiatrist, has called attention to “Earth out of view,” and points out that it will be an unprecedented moment in history. He also notes that we do not know what the impact of the experience will be. I agree with that statement. We should note that the rovers have sent back pictures of the Earth as seen from the surface of Mars, so that will not be new to people who remain behind, but it will be significant for the first astronauts who make the journey.

Credit: Bob Sauls – XP4D/Explore Mars, Inc. (used with permission)

Credit: Bob Sauls – XP4D/Explore Mars, Inc. (used with permission)

Regardless, this will be the time when the a new shift in perspective, which I have called the Copernican Perspective, takes hold, and the humans having the experience began to feel more a part of the solar system and less a part of the Earth.

While there are many fascinating aspects of our efforts to become a multi-planet species, including how we can survive on a planet like Mars, we should not lose sight of the fact that the most significant aspects of space exploration may well be continuously unfolding understandings of the human place in the universe – a fundamental and irreversible shift in our collective identity.

For information on the book: The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, go to:

http://www.overviewinstitute.org/books/item/the-overview-effect-space-exploration-and-human-evolution-second-edition

For the 2014 edition, go to:

http://arc.aiaa.org/doi/book/10.2514/4.103223

For information on the Overview Institute, go to:

http://www.overviewinstitute.org/

 

One Response to “Mars: The Overview Effect at the Red Planet”

  • GatorALLin says:

    A few ideas to share here….

    #1 The human body that is ideal for Earth will prove a problem on Mars, even for trips less than 4 years, so with tinkering with our own DNA and tools like Crispr9, so Martians will need to be aliens of sorts. We need to empower this evolution if we are ever to survive in deep space, so my guess is Mars will supercharge that effort. All diseases and challenges with radiation and other things that hurt human bodies will gain advantages, so I hope the Earthlings embrace the changes required.

    #2. My guess is there will be a multitude of governments required to work together to make life on Mars possible. Of course huge corporate involvement as well like we have not yet seen before. Musk, FB, Google, Apple will find products and motivation to accelerate the timeline and chance for success. Mars may prove to be the new melting pot or do over for Earth. Survival may help focus those involved and help strip away all the normal drama that divides us. Let’s hope it brings us together…. and also here on Earth as we may learn a few things along the journey.

    #3 Seeing Earth from so far away will likely remind us how small we are and how rare life is and how Hard Space is. My guess is in 20-30 years we will confirm there is no life 20 feet down under Mars, or when drilling in the ice, or even on Europa or Enceladus or anywhere else in our solar system. There will be a Webb 2.0 by then also confirming the Milky Way and at least the closest galaxies are quiet to the point of thinking we are alone thus far. StarShot may be sending a first test sail out for a distant flyby. I hope we have dark energy and dark matter figured out, even if we learn they don’t exist or gravity has a few big surprises for us. For now we will learn it is just up to us. The meaning of life is to give life meaning and to survive to make it matter.

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