Science

William Shatner never saw Earth the same after going to space — he's not alone

In a new book, Shatner described a profound mindset shift — one that many others have also experienced.

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Spending time in space takes a toll on the body.

And for many space travelers, it can alter the mind as well — or rather, one’s perspective.

Many astronauts and space travelers experience a phenomenon called the overview effect.

Coined in 1987 by writer and philosopher Frank White, the idea encompasses a change in perspective when people fly to space and see Earth as a small part of a whole.

Space Frontiers/Archive Photos/Getty Images

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Most recently, Star Trek actor William Shatner described a profound and somber mindset shift when he saw Earth from above during his 2021 Blue Origin flight.

Here’s how time in space changed the perspectives of 7 people:

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

7. William Shatner

Shatner detailed his perspective during and after the flight in a new book, Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder.

Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images

“It was among the strongest feelings of grief I have ever encountered.

The contrast between the vicious coldness of space and the warm nurturing of Earth below filled me with overwhelming sadness.

Every day, we are confronted with the knowledge of further destruction of Earth at our hands: the extinction of animal species, of flora and fauna...

Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images

“...things that took five billion years to evolve, and suddenly we will never see them again because of the interference of mankind.

It filled me with dread. My trip to space was supposed to be a celebration; instead, it felt like a funeral.”

Shatner, in an excerpt from Boldly Go, first published by Variety.

6. Chris Sembroski

Sembroski was one of four civilian crew members on board SpaceX Inspiration-4 in 2021. He spent three days in orbit around planet Earth.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

“Each of us have been changed in a way that maybe we didn’t expect.

And for me, it was being able to see the Earth in a way that made me realize there is so much to see in person that I need to and find those places and explore more.”

Sembroski, in a 2021 interview with NBC News.

5. Nicole Stott

As an astronaut, Stott made two trips to the International Space Station and spent a cumulative 104 days in space.

NASA

NASA

“It’s a feeling of interconnectivity that you sometimes just don’t get when you’re in the middle of something.

I think separating ourselves from things that are important to us is good because you then appreciate it in a new way. That definitely happened for me with Earth.”

Stott, in a 2018 interview with Inverse

4. Sally Ride

After two trips on board the Space Shuttle Challenger, former astronaut Ride reflected on the first time she saw the horizon from space.

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Bettmann/Bettmann/Getty Images

“I remember the first time that I looked towards the horizon. I saw the blackness of space and then this bright, blue Earth.

And then I noticed, right along the horizon, it looked as if someone had taken a royal blue crayon and just traced along Earth’s horizon.

Then I realized that that blue line, that really thin royal blue line, was Earth’s atmosphere ...

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... and that’s all there was of it. And it’s so clear from that perspective how fragile our existence is.

It makes you appreciate how important it is to take care of that atmosphere.”

Ride, in a NASA interview

3. Scott Kelly

Former astronaut Kelly spent 340 days on the International Space Station from 2015 to 2016. He had a similar reflection on the fragility of life on Earth.

Eric Kayne/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Eric Kayne/Getty Images News/Getty Images

“You see how fragile the atmosphere looks. It's very thin. It's almost like a thin contact lens over somebody's eye, and you realized all the pollutants we put into the atmosphere are contained in that very thin film over the surface. It's a little bit scary actually to look at it.”

Kelly, in a 2016 interview on Business Insider's podcast "Success! How I Did It"

2. Mae Jemison

In 1992, former astronaut Jemison flew on board the Space Shuttle Endeavor, fulfilling her lifelong dream of going to space.

NASA

NASA

“For me, the experience was one that made me feel very connected with the universe. I felt my being was as much a part of this universe as any star, as any comet.

It helped me to recognize that right now, we’re in space. This Earth is part of that universe.”

Jamieson, in a 2014 interview with PBS Nova

1. Alan Shepard

As commander of the Apollo 14 mission, astronaut Shepard landed on the Moon in 1971, where he saw Earth from a distance.

HUM Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

HUM Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

“To look up in the black sky ... the totally black sky and [see] another planet — planet Earth ... it makes it looks beautiful, it makes it look lonely, it makes it look fragile.

You think to yourself, just imagine that millions of people are living on this planet and don’t realize how fragile it is.”

Shepard, in a 1998 C-SPAN interview just 5 months before his death.