It Really is a Fragile Oasis!

Written by Frank White on Saturday, 25 May 2013.


When I first heard astronaut Ron Garan use the term “fragile oasis,” I immediately thought of it in ecological terms. Many astronauts have echoed Ron’s thoughts, focusing in particular on the thin atmosphere that is the only barrier between us and the vacuum of space.


            However, I had another understanding of the term recently, when two extraordinary events took place on the same day. First, there was a meteor strike that hit Russia, shaking buildings, shattering glass, and injuring more than a thousand people. Then, there was the too-close-for-comfort flyby of an asteroid that passed within the orbits of many of our own communications satellites.


            The asteroid encounter was expected, the meteor strike was not. Both engendered excitement and fear, though, as scientists let us know how lucky we were that the meteor did not explode closer to the ground and the asteroid was not in a slightly different orbit. We heard a lot about the dinosaurs and why they are no longer with us.


            The asteroid, named 2012 D14, is actually the more serious problem. Meteorites crash into the atmosphere every day, most of them burning up harmlessly. The danger of asteroids is that there are so many out there, and we don’t know where all of them are. The media talked at some length about mitigation strategies, which sounds plausible, but you need to have advance warning before you can try to nudge these space rocks away from our home planet.


            After the excitement died down, what occurred to me is that the Earth really is a fragile oasis, in more ways than one. It’s not just an environmental issue; it’s also the fact that a collision with something the size of a small car could be the end of life as we know it.


            As one who has long been interested in the Overview Effect, it also brought to mind something those of us at the Overview Institute have been trying to communicate for some time: we are in space, we have always been in space, and we will always be in space.


            We are traveling through the universe in a natural spaceship at a high rate of speed, and there are lots of other things rushing about as well: comets, asteroids, meteors, and even a rogue planet or two.


            It is not surprising to me that astronauts like Rusty Schweickart and Ed Lu are interested in figuring out how to save the planet from an asteroid hit. They have been out there and they’ve seen the Earth not only from space but also in space. They know that you can hold up your thumb and blot out the past, present, and future of humanity and all life. They know, in short, how precious this fragile oasis really is.


            For some, the message is clear: if we are to survive, we must become a multi-planet species, and that is likely to happen, perhaps sooner than we think. For others, it is asteroid mitigation to protect the planet. For me, it is both. Our true environment, as the asteroid and meteor reminded us, is the solar system, and we need to learn as much about that new environment as we can if we are going to survive an

About the Author

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.

Comments (1)

  • Antonio Do Souto

    Antonio Do Souto

    17 July 2013 at 07:15 |
    Dear Mr. White,

    First of all I would like to extend you my greetings, and express you the big respect and admiration I have for you and for your work. I found out about the Overview Effect just a couple of days ago, and since then it is almost the only thing that has occupied my mind. I kind of stumble into it while surfing the web looking for some astronomical inspiration to start a new process of self-search and conscious awareness of what should really matter to me, this is definitely much more powerful than what I thought I could find.

    I was happy to realize that your concept, the Overview Effect, embodies and defines with words exactly what I was feeling since a log time ago. I was pretty sure that I wasn’t, by far, the only one with this feelings and this internal struggle for consciousness. But I had also came to the sad conclusion that, at least in my surroundings, there was no one I could find to discuss this matters, and basically to share that I was fighting myself because there was a part of me that was reaching a cognitive switch. I could actually talk with people with enough scientific knowledge to understand what I was trying to imply (like my brother), I but it seemed that one of two thing were happening: or it was me and my lack of verbal ability that didn’t let me really explain the idea as I wanted; or it was simply not interesting enough, just like something too deep to be worried about right now, or almost too spiritual…

    The truth is that since I read a couple of articles related to the Overview Effect, I managed to organize a lot of ideas in my brain, put thing into the right places, and yesterday I was able to explain many of these concepts to people that actually do not have any scientific or astronomical knowledge at all (like my girlfriend who is 100% dedicated to art and humanity) in it got to them! I left them thinking about it, and discussing the matter for some time. It was almost like a scale version of the Overview Effect. Of course none of us was looking at our planet from the space in the space (sadly). But I managed to create and recall that image that almost everybody has seen in their brains. It made me happy!

    Today, I am happy about finding a huge community dedicated to discuss that was motivated me during most of my independent life. I feel actually a little embarrassed to discover this only two days ago and see that the second edition of your book came out in 1998. I know I have a lot to catch up with. I will definitely by the book as soon as I can. But actually, while I don’t have the possibility to buy it, I will dedicate myself to think about this and go deeper into the ideas.

    Reading this post about our Fragile Oasis, there is something that comes to my mind since a log time ago: I’m not afraid about the end of our Oasis coming from the outside with the impact of an asteroid or many meteors. I think that if that eventually happened, it would be nothing else that the nature of the Universe doing its magic once again. What worries me most is the very strong possibility that the destruction of our Fragile Oasis could be a process that starts from the inside. This could take us to the infinite discussion of world contamination and pollution and almost the cliché of considering the human species as a of mother Earth. It is not my intention and if anything, it would not be wrong to state that this scenario is as much as natural as any other –if we consider destructivity and violence as part of the human nature, feed and accelerated by its very powerful and also natural intelligence-. I find it difficult to imagine us as a multi-planet species.

    Rather than that, I find it very easy to image a deep and profound change in the way we –use¬- our Spaceship. Deep and profound if we start to expose our leaders to the Overview Effect. Actually, I think every single person in the world should have that experience some day. But it seems like today we have enough technology and resources to deliver it to a small group of people with actual power and possibilities of starting a change.

    Best regards,

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