Andy Thomas: Adelaide’s own astronaut

Seeing Earth from space “makes you an environmentalist,” says former NASA astronaut Andy Thomas.

Thomas, from Adelaide, has completed four space missions, spending around six months in space, much of which in Russia. Mir space station.

He describes what it’s like to have such a different perspective – it’s been dubbed the “Overview effect“.

“You get an appreciation of the finite resources represented by the Earth,” he says.

“I remember one day I was flying and there were fires in Central America, in Nicaragua. They use slash-and-burn agricultural practices there and deforestation is a tragedy.

“These fires got out of control and smoke was released from these fires. We were flying over Chicago, which is far from Nicaragua… I could see these puffs of smoke rising from Nicaragua all the way to Chicago, and I thought, “This is a terrible thing that we are doing to the planet”. “

Space philosopher Frank White says that commercial space flights – space tourism – or virtual reality could help humans linked to Earth feel the big picture effect.

He spoke on a NASA podcast of how for some astronauts it happens “in a moment”, while for others it takes a little longer.

“I think most astronauts I spoke to would say the first visual rendering of the planet was very meaningful… that first moment they looked out of the Soyuz spacecraft, or the shuttle, or they went to the dome on the International Space Station, ”he said.

the Institute overview lists astronauts’ experiences seeing this perspective and uses it to push for action on climate change.

They list quotes from astronauts who experienced the effect, including that of Richard Garriott, who paid $ 30 million for the chance to go to space.

“It was like drinking information from a fire hose,” he says.

“I had heard about the Overview effect but after doing a lot of extreme things in my life… skydiving, rock climbing, touring the Titanic and Antarctica, I didn’t think it would affect me much… C ‘ is until… I entered space! My life has changed because of my space experience. “

In 2019, scientists started an experiment where they tried to replicate the effect – in a day spa. University of Missouri psychologist Steven Pratscher asked volunteers to don a virtual reality headset and dive into a flotation tank. The study will end in mid-May.

Thomas said another wake-up call for him was flying over China and thought it was foggy.

“But of course it wasn’t foggy, it was coal pollution, coal, coal pollution,” he says.

“You get a different view… of the planet and its resources, and how important it is to all of our lives.”

Hear more from Andy Thomas talk about watching Australia from space and the possibilities for “Aussienauts” on Moonshot, which airs on ABC Digital Radio on Sunday at 4pm.

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