Frank White

Frank White is the author of The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, first published in 1987 and re-issued in 1998. A member of the Harvard College Class of 1966, Frank graduated magna cum laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He attended Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, earning an MPhil in 1969. He is the author or co-author of eight additional books on space exploration and the future, including The SETI Factor; Decision: Earth; Think About Space and March of the Millennia (both with Isaac Asimov), The Ice Chronicles (with Paul Mayewski), and Space Stories (with Kenneth J. Cox and Robbie Davis-Floyd). He also contributed chapters on the Overview Effect to four recently published books on space exploration, Return to the Moon, Beyond Earth, Living in Space, and Space Commerce.

Frank has spoken at numerous conferences on space exploration and space development. In 1988, he delivered the keynote address at the International Space Development Conference in Denver. In 1989, he spoke at George Washington University to mark the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. He also delivered the keynote address at the first Overview Effect Conference in 2007.

In 2006, the Space Tourism Society awarded Frank a "Certificate of Special Recognition."

In 2008, Frank was one of the speakers at a session of the International Space Development Conference that launched the Overview Institute and announced the signing of the Overview Declaration.

The Unsung Hero of the Overview Film Premiere

Written by Frank White on Monday, 21 January 2013.

When you watch the video of the event that was held at Harvard on December 7 to premiere the film “Overview,” you will see a number of people who helped to make it happen—Rob Neugeboren, Guy Reid, Ron Garan, Jeff Hoffman, Doug Trumbull, and me. There were others who do not appear, too numerous to name, who played important roles in making this event happen.

However, you won’t see the person who is, in my opinion, the unsung hero of the event—my wife Donna. That’s because Donna was too sick to attend, something I mentioned in my own short talk about the Overview Effect.

Donna suffers from a chronic illness called Crohn’s disease, with vascular complications resulting from the treatments she’s had. She had wanted to attend the event, and we had rented a room in the Charles Hotel the night before, so that it would be easy for her to get to it, or she would be close by if she couldn’t make it.

Anyway, what most people don’t know is that Donna was so sick she really should have been in the hospital that day. However, she had said over and over again to me, “I don’t care how sick I am, I’m not going to get in the way of your big event. Don’t even mention going to the hospital to me.”

I said okay, but it was difficult, because it was clear to me on the morning of December 7 that Donna was very unwell. Anyway, I did go through the day and into the evening as planned, and it was a great introduction of the film and of the Overview Effect idea.

The next morning, however, Donna was much worse and she told me to call an ambulance. We rushed her to the hospital, where she had surgery to open up blocked veins and insert three stents to prevent additional blockages.  She is much better now, but it is clear to me that her love for me and support for my work on the Overview Effect was all that kept her from going to the hospital much sooner.

This is not the first time that Donna has made sacrifices to allow me to speak at conferences or attend events connected with this work. In fact, she has been a strong supporter of anything connected with the Overview Effect and Overview Institute for nearly 20 years. I have told many people how much I appreciate her commitment, but it is time now to acknowledge her contribution to the world.

Thank you, my Donna!

My Father's Contribution to this Work

Written by Frank White on Monday, 07 January 2013.

When I appeared on the Space Show with David Livington last Veteran's Day I failed to mention one important point.  It was my fault, not David’s, and I want to make up for it here. David opened the show talking about Veteran’s Day and honoring our military personnel. I should have taken the opportunity to speak about my father, Frank C. White, who served in the Pacific in World War II, and was called back to active duty during the Korean conflict.

In addition to his service to his country, Dad played an active role in bringing The Overview Effect to publication. He did quite a lot of research for me and helped me cut down the first draft from more than 800 pages to a manageable (and publishable!) length.

At some point during the writing of the book, I realized that my father and I shared another bond: he had always been passionate about aerial photography, and interpreting aerial photos had been part of his job in the Army. After the war, he continued his work in this area, and I guess I absorbed some of his passion for viewing the Earth from afar. In a way, I suppose he was exploring some of the earliest manifestations of “the Overview Effect.”

Appearance on “The Space Show”

Written by Frank White on Sunday, 11 November 2012. Posted in Overview Institute, Overview Effect

Over Veteran’s Day weekend, I was honored to appear on The Space Show, hosted by Dr. David Livingston. If you have never listened to the program, you should give it a try. It is online at David brings in a variety of great guests from the space community, and he is a thoughtful and informed interviewer. I had not appeared since the founding of the Overview Institute, when I appeared with my colleagues, David Beaver and Alex Howerton.

This was a wonderful opportunity to bring people up to date on the progress of the Institute, as well as the upcoming world premiere of the film “Overview,” the revision of The Overview Effect for a third edition, and my work with Space Synapse, a company that is devoted to communicating the Overview Effect message through a variety of media.

Listeners sent in a number of emails and made some perceptive phone calls. Bob Krone, provost of the Kepler Space Institute (KSI), emailed to remind us that I have developed a course on the Overview Effect for KSI, and that they have recently started a space philosophy journal.

I want to thank David Livingston for inviting me on his program, and my all veterans (including my father and grandfather) for their service. My hope is that, as more people hear the message of the Overview Effect, we will have fewer wars, but we should continue to honor those who gave of themselves for us.

To listen to our discussion, click here to download the audio file.

The Overview Effect and the "Facebook Revolutions"

Written by Frank White on Saturday, 07 July 2012.

As we have watched the uprisings that began in the Middle East and have now spread around the world, much has been made of the role that Facebook, Twitter, and other online technologies have played in assisting the revolutionaries in coordinating their actions.

What hasn't been mentioned is that these capabilities depend largely on a space-based technology, i.e., satellites, for their impact. When I interviewed astronaut Jeff Hoffman for The Overview Effect, he pointed out that the "technological overview" might have greater near-term influence on society than the philosophical shifts resulting from viewing of the Earth from space. Speaking of the impact of global communications, he noted that very little could happen anywhere in the world without other people knowing about it.  He said, "That is probably the biggest thing the space program has done in terms of changing human consciousness, although very few people recognize it as the space program."

The same might be said of the environmental movement, which has had an enormous influence on our society. The link between the movement and the early views of the whole Earth from the moon was noted  at the time, but seems to have been ignored in recent years. Some environmentalists are even hostile to the idea of space exploration.

I detect, on the part of humanity, an unwillingness to absorb one of the key messages of the Overview Effect, which is that we are in space, we always have been in space, and we always will be in space. And as we move out into the universe, our life on Earth will forever be changed. I've begun to think that the problem might lie with the word "space." Even though the domain we call "space" is closer to the surface of the Earth than Boston is to New York, our minds tend to think of it as far away and alien in some way. I wonder if we need a new word, like Earthspace, to describe that region outside our biosphere that is still quite close to our planet's surface. Perhaps that would diminish our sense of being far away from home when we are in "space."

We could even embroider on this concept and say that as long as we are within the gravitational pull of the Earth, we are in Earthspace. If we created another Apollo vehicle like the Saturn V, and entered the moon's gravitational pull, we would be in "Moonspace." We could divide the entire solar system up this way, so that our minds would not feel so overwhelmed by the term "space," which would still be, of course, the "final frontier."

Apollo, the Dragon, and the Overview Effect

Written by Frank White on Monday, 28 May 2012. Posted in Overview Effect, Space Tourism

Not long ago, I got up at 3:30 am to watch the Falcon rocket blast off. In doing so, I recalled the all-nighter I pulled in Oxford, England, in July 1969 to watch the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon. To me, these two missions were similar because nothing would be the same afterward. And both missions, I believe, are related to the Overview Effect and its impact on our awareness of who we are and where we are in the universe.

How can this be, you may ask. After all, the Apollo missions represented the first time we saw the whole Earth, gave us our first glimpse of "Earthrise," and helped give the environmental movement a kickstart as a major factor in shaping attitudes and behaviors on our planet. Didn’t Apollo represent the Overview Effect par excellence? And wasn’t this SpaceX launch just an unmanned cargo craft resupplying the International Space Station (ISS)? How could the two have anything in common?

Let me try to answer that question as best I can. I suppose on launch day, I simply knew that both were "historic" turning points, but I wasn’t sure how. It wasn’t until the following Monday, when the Dragon linked up with the ISS that the connection with the Overview Effect became more clear.

The most obvious link was simply in what NASA TV showed us as the Dragon maneuvered into position at an increasingly smaller distance from the space station. There, in the background, I saw amazingly beautiful video of the Earth rolling past, sometimes showing puffs of clouds, sometimes land masses, and at other times, the oceans. Of course, the NASA commentator wasn’t doing a program about the Overview Effect, so he didn’t comment on the view. He focused on the spacecraft below, the conversations among the flight controllers, and the issues that were arising as the moment of docking approached.

However, it occurred to me that many more people were watching this broadcast than would usually be the case, and this was a good thing. NASA TV often shows striking video from orbit, but they do not have a very large audience to see these images. With a larger group watching, people might have an experience of the Overview Effect for the very first time that morning, even if they didn’t know what it was!

Then, what came to mind was Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind this magnificent moment. He, too, was receiving more attention than usual on this day, and deservedly so. In response to questions about "What next?", he might have said that he just wanted to fulfill his contract with NASA to keep flying more supplies to the ISS. He said that, of course, but he has also talked about humanity becoming a multi-planet species, and his goal of sending large numbers of people to Mars.

In a flash, I realized that a long-held dream of mine might come true in my lifetime: thousands of people experiencing the Overview Effect, instead of the 500 plus that have had the experience so far.

This is the true promise of the NewSpace industry, which includes visionaries like Musk, Sir Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, Peter Diamandis, and many others. It is not the suborbital hops and space hotels, the moon missions and Mars colonies alone that really matter. It is, rather, that we will soon reach the point where as many people will see the Earth from a distance within a week’s time as have experienced it in the past 50 years.

At some point in the life of a human system, a quantitative change leads to a qualitative change. For decades, we have observed a few hundred astronauts and cosmonauts undergoing the shift in worldview represented by the Overview Effect, and we have been saying, "this is extraordinary." Now, soon, this will happen to many, many ordinary people and, through them, to society as a whole.

At that point, we will become not only a multi-planet species but also a species that is aware of its true destiny, i.e., to become Citizens of the Universe.

Thank you, Neil Armstrong. Thank you, Elon Musk. Thank you Apollo and Dragon.

The Overview Effect and its message for us

Written by Frank White on Saturday, 16 May 2009. Posted in Overview Institute

The Overview Effect is a message from the universe to humanity. The message is that the Earth, when seen from orbit or the moon, is a whole system, where borders and boundaries disappear, and everything is interconnected. Our planet is a tiny spaceship in an enormous universe, which is itself a whole system, of which we are an important part.

This declaration of our intention to found the Overview Institute is also a "Declaration of Interdependence" with the Earth and with the cosmos. For us, it represents an understanding that we must now become Overviewers, those who have heard the message, want to understand it fully, and manifest its implications in our own lives.