Announcing the Space Policy and History Forum #19

The next Space Policy and History Forum takes place on March 21, 2016, and will feature David Beaver, Co-Founder of the Overview Institute, presenting “The Overview Effect: The Missing Piece in the Cultural Debate over Human Space Flight.” Please note that this forum will be held at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C. RSPV to Roger Launius,, by Wednesday afternoon (March 16, 2016) if you plan to attend.


The whole Earth image taken from Apollo 17 in December 1972.

The whole Earth image taken from Apollo 17 in December 1972.

The Overview Effect: The Missing Piece in the Cultural Debate over Human Space Flight

by David Beaver



Space advocates have long lamented the loss of robust public support for human space exploration programs. While NASA has put forth the rationales of science, technology development, spin-offs, and exploration, none have garnered sufficient public or congressional support necessary for robust funding beyond near-Earth orbit. And despite the recent emergence of a growing commercial New Space industry that is rapidly accomplishing milestones previously only capable by national space programs, the public pays little attention. Occupied by a series of global challenges and crises, advocates for solutions to these problems see the cost and risk of more robust human space programs to be a diversion of resources from these Earth-based concerns. Since the beginning of human space flight, astronauts have reported profound shifts and changes in their perspectives on many aspects of life on Earth, to what might be called a more planetary mindset. Curiously, these shifts tend to coalesce around a nexus of changes that closely parallel the same planetary worldviews long urged by “world-change” advocates as necessary to creating solutions to world-scale problems. These shifts and changes are most widely known in the space community as the Overview Effect. Space and cultural histories have long noted how this effect, even filtered through conventional media reports and images, has created similar, if less dramatic changes in the wider culture. This presentation focuses on the Overview Effect and its place in the aerospace community.

The Overview Institute is the only organization in the space community focused on collating, analyzing, and educating about the Overview experiences of the astronauts. The Institute has compiled hundreds of astronaut descriptions and recorded interviews with nearly fifty astronauts. This data has then been subjected to social and cognitive analysis to isolate the most common perceptual drivers of the experience and most frequent aspects of the effects. Based on this analysis, bringing a robust research-based understanding of these Overview experiences of the astronauts into the cultural discussion over manned space efforts would elevate the perceived value of all space projects, and bring a positive worldview shift to facilitate multiple world-change efforts, which would also help to convert some of the most vocal critics of massive new space projects into allies in bringing about a more sustainable world. Finally, the recent advent of more advanced virtual and hyper-realistic media systems holds the promise of bringing a far more powerful experience of the Overview Effect than is possible in conventional media. While these new technologies are getting great attention, only a full understanding of the perceptual cues experienced by space travelers and how the human perceptual system interacts with media systems will be sufficient to create space experiences with a profound sense of presence and reality. Getting the Overview Effect research to new media creators will be necessary if such experiences are to become widely available.


David Beaver is the Co-Founder of the Overview Institute, the primary organization in the space field focused on researching and educating on the worldview shifting impact of space travel on the human mind and society. David studied nuclear engineering and physics at The University of Virginia, the psychology and sociology of perception and the philosophy of science at The University of Richmond. For more than thirty years he has conducted original research and lectured on the cognitive science of perception with a focus on its interaction with media images and its relationship to design, perception, art, film, virtual reality and other fields. Writing four books on his research, which were privately circulated to selected academics, brought invited seminars from the deans of six major graduate schools, including two seminars at the Duke University Center for Cognitive Neuroscience.

In the mid-90’s, as a demonstration of his theoretical work, David received multiple U.S. and International patents for his invention of what is still considered the first generation of virtual reality theatre technology, bringing collaborations with IBM, Barco, Peter Gabriel, Michael Jackson, Paramount, Disney and others.

In the early 2000’s, after extensive conversations with Edgar Mitchell, Douglas Trumbull and Frank White (author of The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution) David produced five national conference events in the space community, four co-sponsored by the National Space Society and the Space Frontier Foundation. In 2008, these led to Beaver and White co-founding the Overview Institute, along with twenty other noted experts in space, cognitive science and simulation media. In 2013, Harvard premiered “Overview,” the first major documentary on the Overview Effect, which has now passed 7.5M views on Vimeo leading to two more Harvard conferences and one at NASM. The Overview Effect is now the most widely used term in the space community to refer to the astronauts’ space experiences.

Today, in addition to co-directing the Institute, David is working with Institute Founding Member, Douglas Trumbull, the legendary creator of space imagery for iconic films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Silent Running, Tree of Life, and more. Utilizing Trumbull’s recently created MAGI technology; they intend to create the most realistic simulations of the space experience ever seen by the public.

Date and Time

March 21, 2016 (Monday), 4:00-5:00 P.M.

Location, Parking, and Access

The presentation will be held at the National Air and Space Museum, 600 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C., 4:00-5:00 p.m. Space is limited to 50 attendees, so please RSVP to Roger Launius,, to get your name on the list. This will be for access to the 3rd floor of the Museum, where we will be meeting in the Director’s Conference Room. You may check in and obtain a badge for access to the building at the guard desk just to the right as you enter the Independence Ave. doors. If you have any questions regarding access, please contact Roger. Parking is not available in NASM, and is limited elsewhere; we recommend using the Metro system for travel to the National Air and Space Museum—the Smithsonian and L’Enfant Plaza stops on the Orange and Blue lines are close by.



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