When astronaut Mike Massimino first went to space in 1996, he experienced the “overview effect”—the psychological shift that happens when you suddenly see your home planet from hundreds of miles away. A new VR video, narrated by Massimino, takes viewers on the same trip.
“My first view of the planet was through the shuttle windows,” he says. “That’s the first thing you want to do when you get there—you want to look out and see what it looks like. We had a very early morning launch in the U.S., and by the time we got over the Indian Ocean, it was bright out. I remember looking down at the Indian Ocean, and it was absolutely spectacular.”
Later, on a spacewalk to service the Hubble telescope, “I felt like I was looking at an absolute paradise,” he says. “I could turn my head and look out into the vastness out there over my left shoulder, the darkness of space. You know, we’ve checked out the neighborhood, there’s nowhere else to go. And then you look back to this unbelievably beautiful place. My perception of the planet has changed the way I do actually believe we’re living in a paradise. I can’t imagine any place being more beautiful than our planet. And I think . . . the true beauty of it, in some ways, is viewed from above.”
From space, the atmosphere that makes it possible for life to exist on Earth—the same atmosphere that we’ve been filling with billions of metric tons of CO2 pollution—appears as a thin blue line. Being in space, he says, made it obvious how critical it was to protect the planet. In a conversation with a friend, the astronaut Scott Kelly, “We were talking about this: Anyone who goes to space and comes home and doesn’t recycle, there’s something wrong with them,” he says. “You go and you see the beauty of the planet, but you also see the fragility, and you can see how thin the atmosphere is.” Ørsted, the Danish renewable energy company that made the video, is hoping that people watching it will have a similar experience. It worked in 1968, when the “Earthrise” photo taken from Apollo 8, the first photo of Earth, helped propel the start of the modern environmental movement.