International Space Centre Node Leader Professor Yasmin Haskell traces some of the complex and mixed emotions about space and space travel expressed by people on the ground and those on space missions, in an interview with Robyn Williams on ABC’s The Science Show. What is the history, and the future of emotions in space? How will we sustain one another emotionally, so far from our terrestrial home? Will our human emotions about space evolve over time? Or will we feel lonely, homesick for the landscapes of Earth?

In this interview, Haskell describe the “orbital experience” – an identified experience of astronauts called the overview effect.

“In his book The Orbital Perspective: Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles, astronaut Ron Garan described performing a windshield wiper manoeuvre on the International Space Station in 2008. Attached to the end of a  robotic arm, Garan completed an arc over the space station and back again and reported that as he approached the top of this arc, it was as if time stood still:

“‘I was flooded with both emotion and awareness, but as I looked down at the Earth, this stunning, fragile oasis, this island that has been given to us, that has protected all life from the harshness of space, a sadness came over me and I was hit in the gut with an undeniable sobering contradiction. In spite of the overwhelming beauty of the scene, serious inequity exists on the apparent paradise we have been given. I couldn’t help thinking of the nearly 1 billion people who don’t have clean water to drink, the countless number who go to bed hungry every night, the social injustice, the conflicts and the poverty that remain pervasive across the planet. Seeing Earth from this vantage point gave me a unique perspective, something I’ve come to call the orbital perspective. Part of this is the  realisation that we are all travelling together on the planet, and that  if we all looked at the world from that perspective we would see that nothing is impossible.'”

Haskell asks, is it a special and discrete space emotion, something that can only  be experienced at 71 million miles? Or can it be recreated for children using virtual reality simulation, as the European Space Agency’s Spacebuzz Project of 2018 attempted? In fact, something like the overview effect has long existed in the human imagination.

Listen to this fascinating interview on ABC’s The Science Show here.