Making the Overview Effect Real

By Gary Barnhard & Uma Shri Verma

Being in space and looking down at the Earth, astronauts are hit with an astounding reality: our planet is a tiny, fragile ball of life, “hanging in the void,” shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere. This phenomenon is known as the Overview Effect.

Why do we explore? Surely it’s to discover the vastness of something outside of ourselves, something surreal and sublime.

What happens when you put yourself in the position to experience something astonishing? You are simultaneously filled with humility as you bask in the silence and are awed by beauty that is the reality of our planet.

The impossibly significant and insignificant merge as you seek to comprehend the part of the universe that you inhabit.

mccandlessThe image of U.S. astronaut Bruce McCandless using a manned maneuvering unit drives this home. Virtual reality can bring this experience to everyone and inspire the next generation of explorers.

Today we are at the cusp of witnessing one of the major technological breakthroughs in Virtual Reality (VR), the next disruptive technology that will redefine the future. It is an immersive experience that makes you feel like you’re physically present in an environment that you are not a part of. You’re transported to a virtual world and the result is spell-binding. It is possible for everyone to have the opportunity to experience the truly infinite, boundless universe that we live in…through virtual reality.

Through virtual reality you will be able to see the entire Earth pass underneath you, seeing exactly what astronauts do. Watch fireworks shoot off the planet on July 4th or a SpaceX Dragon module dock with the station as if you were floating right there!

Space is the final frontier, and everybody should have a chance to be a part of exploring it and, in turn, being influenced by it—to experience the Overview Effect. There’s a lot of excitement about exploring space by the people, for the people, and it will not happen unless people choose to be involved.  Together we can make the universe accessible to everyone, inspire the next generation of explorers and get people excited about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) fields.

SpaceVR is a San Francisco based start up working on sending a virtual reality camera to the International Space Station for everyone to experience what it’s like to see the world like an astronaut.  They plan to use 360-degree cameras placed in the International Space Station’s (ISS) Cupola observatory to capture and downlink imagery to Earth so a broader community can experience space travel in immersive virtual reality. From there their future plans include the Moon, asteroids, Mars and beyond. More details on their work can be found on their website at

Boeing Unveils CST-100 Spacecraft Interior

And Space Adventures plans to sell flights on the CST-100, having recently signed a contract with Boeing to that effect. No word yet on cost and availability.

Article below by Rebecca Regan, NASA Kennedy Space Center

Two NASA astronauts conducted flight suit evaluations inside a fully outfitted test version of The Boeing Company’s CST-100 spacecraft July 22, the first time the world got a glimpse of the crew capsule’s interior.

“The astronauts always enjoy getting out and looking at the vehicles and sharing their experiences with these commercial providers,” said Kathy Lueders, deputy manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

Boeing is one of three American companies working with CCP to develop safe, reliable and cost-effective crew transportation systems during NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative, which is intended to make commercial human spaceflight services available for government and commercial customers.

During two, four-hour sessions, astronauts Serena Aunon and Randy Bresnik put on NASA’s iconic orange launch-and-entry suits and then individually tested their maneuverability inside the capsule. Meanwhile, Boeing engineers monitored communications, equipment and ergonomics.

“These are our customers. They’re the ones who will take our spacecraft into flight, and if we’re not building it the way they want it we’re doing something wrong,” said Chris Ferguson, director of Boeing’s Crew and Mission Operations and a former NASA astronaut. “We’ll probably make one more go-around and make sure that everything is just the way they like it.”

The CST-100 test vehicle was optimized to seat five crew members, but the spacecraft could accommodate up to seven or a mix of crew and cargo. While the spacecraft may resemble Boeing’s heritage Apollo-era capsules from an exterior perspective, its interior is a reflection of modern technology. From the ambient sky blue LED lighting and tablet technology, the company ensured the CST-100 is a modern spacecraft.

“What you’re not going to find is 1,100 or 1,600 switches,” said Ferguson. “When these guys go up in this, they’re primary mission is not to fly this spacecraft, they’re primary mission is to go to the space station for six months. So we don’t want to burden them with an inordinate amount of training to fly this vehicle. We want it to be intuitive.”

Other innovative element of the CST-100 is its weld-free design, modern structures and upgraded thermal protection techniques. The company said its spun-formed shell reduces the overall mass of the spacecraft as well as the time it takes to build the crew capsule. “I’m really a looking forward to the day when we will be bringing our Expedition crew members home and I won’t need a passport or a visa to go to the landing site and greet them as they come off the vehicle,” Lueders said.

First Powered Flight of SpaceShipTwo

Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s aabar Investments PJS, completed the first rocket-powered flight of its space vehicle, SpaceShipTwo (SS2), on April 29. The test, conducted by teams from Scaled Composites (Scaled) and Virgin Galactic, officially marks Virgin Galactic’s entrance into the final phase of vehicle testing prior to commercial service from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

“The first powered flight of Virgin Spaceship Enterprise was without any doubt, our single most important flight test to date,” said Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson, who was on the ground in Mojave to witness the occasion. “For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight. Today’s supersonic success opens the way for a rapid expansion of the spaceship’s powered flight envelope, with a very realistic goal of full space flight by the year’s end. We saw history in the making today and I couldn’t be more proud of everyone involved.”

The test began at 7.02am local time when SS2 took off from Mojave Air and Space Port mated to WhiteKnightTwo (WK2), Virgin Galactic’s carrier aircraft. Piloting SS2 were Mark Stucky, pilot, and Mike Alsbury, co-pilot, who are test pilots for Scaled, which built SS2 for Virgin Galactic. At the WK2 controls were Virgin Galactic’s Chief Pilot Dave Mackay, assisted by Clint Nichols and Brian Maisler, co-pilot and flight test engineer, respectively, for Scaled.

Upon reaching 47,000 feet altitude and approximately 45 minutes into the flight, SS2 was released from WK2. After cross-checking data and verifying stable control, the pilots triggered ignition of the rocket motor, causing the main oxidizer valve to open and igniters to fire within the fuel case. At this point, SS2 was propelled forward and upward to a maximum altitude of 55,000 feet. The entire engine burn lasted 16 seconds, as planned. During this time, SS2 went supersonic, achieving Mach 1.2.

“We partnered with Virgin Galactic several years ago with the aspiration to transform and commercialize access to space for the broader public,” said His Excellency Khadem Al Qubaisi, Chairman of aabar Investments PJS. “Today’s test is another key milestone in realizing that aspiration. Our partnership goes from strength to strength, and is an excellent example of aabar’s desire to participate in the development of world class technologies that are commercially viable and strategically important, both for the company, its shareholders, and for Abu Dhabi.”

The entire rocket-powered flight test lasted just over 10 minutes, culminating in a smooth landing for SS2 in Mojave at approximately 8am local time.

“The rocket motor ignition went as planned, with the expected burn duration, good engine performance and solid vehicle handling qualities throughout,” said Virgin Galactic President & CEO George Whitesides. “The successful outcome of this test marks a pivotal point for our program. We will now embark on a handful of similar powered flight tests, and then make our first test flight to space.”

In the coming months, the Virgin Galactic and Scaled test team will expand the spaceship’s powered flight envelope culminating in full space flight, which the companies anticipate will take place before the end of 2013.

“I’d like to congratulate the entire team,” said President of Scaled Kevin Mickey. “This milestone has been a long time coming and it’s only through the hard work of the team and the tremendous support of Virgin Galactic that we have been able to witness this important milestone. We look forward to all our upcoming tests and successes.”

Paths to Space Settlement

The latest paper in the NSS Journal of Space Settlement is “Paths to Space Settlement” by Al Globus.


A number of firms are developing commercial sub-orbital launch vehicles to carry tourists into space. Let’s assume they attract many customers and become profitable. The next, much more difficult, step is to develop orbital tourist vehicles and space hotels to go with them. These hotels will require maids, cooks, waiters, concierges and so forth, some of whom may decide to stay, becoming the first permanent residents in space. A luxury hotel plus good medical facilities could provide low-g living for wealthy disabled individuals where wheelchairs and walkers are unnecessary.

In the meantime, humanity could choose to solve, once and for all, our energy and global warming problems by developing space solar power. To supply a substantial fraction of civilization’s 15 TW energy consumption would require an extremely large number of launches, the ability to build extremely large structures in orbit, and eventually tapping the Moon and Near Earth Objects (NEOs) for materials to avoid the environmental cost of mining, manufacturing, and launch from Earth.

The first step towards NEO mining is to locate them. As a large fraction, roughly 30%, of these will eventually impact Earth, locating and characterizing the NEO population is essential for planetary defense. Furthermore, it would be prudent to deflect a representative set of non-dangerous NEOs to insure that we know how to do it should a NEO on an imminent collision course with Earth be found. A representative set would include at least one of each major type of NEO since these have different physical properties and thus may require different deflection techniques. This would give orbital space settlement designers a known source of materials and the means to move them if necessary.

If these paths are taken, each step of which is justified in its own right, humanity will have excellent launch, small orbital living facilities, the ability to build large objects in orbit, and access to extra-terrestrial materials — most of what is needed to realize Gerard O’Neill’s orbital space settlement vision. At that point, some extremely wealthy individuals may build themselves a small orbital habitat so they live only with like-minded individuals. The first, and most difficult, orbital space settlement will be built.

These are paths to space settlement.

Full paper.

Sarah Brightman to Become First Global Recording Artist to Take Orbital Spaceflight

Global recording artist and UNESCO Artist for Peace Ambassador, Sarah Brightman, announced today in Moscow her intention to launch on a future orbital spaceflight mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in partnership with Space Adventures, Ltd., the world’s leading space experiences company.

Brightman will be part of a three-person crew travelling to the ISS on board a Soyuz rocket. Once on the ISS, she will orbit the Earth 16 times daily and intends to become the first professional musician to sing from space. The final scheduling of her trip to the space station will be determined by Roscosmos and the ISS partners in the coming months.

In conjunction with her role as a UNESCO Artist for Peace ambassador, Brightman sees life on board the space station – which requires the mindful, shared consumption of resources and a clear and unwavering focus on sustainability – as a model for how we might better inhabit our planet. During her estimated 10-day tenure on board the space station, Brightman will advocate for UNESCO’s mandate to promote peace and sustainable development to safeguard our planet’s future. Additionally, this journey will allow Brightman to advance education and empower the role of girls and women in science and technology in an effort to help close the gender gap in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.

“I don’t think of myself as a dreamer. Rather, I am a dream chaser,” said Sarah Brightman. “I hope that I can encourage others to take inspiration from my journey both to chase down their own dreams and to help fulfill the important UNESCO mandate to promote peace and sustainable development on Earth and from space. I am determined that this journey can reach out to be a force for good, a catalyst for some of the dreams and aims of others that resonate with me.”

Over the coming months, Brightman will explore and further develop plans with UNESCO to combine their activities and her space journey. Upon her return to Earth, she will continue to work with UNESCO in an effort to plan multiple, epic ‘Space to Place’ concerts at UNESCO World Heritage Sites, biosphere reserves, and geoparks. Together, the over-arching aim will be to organize events including concerts and multi-media, to involve as many people as possible and to engage a generation of ‘dreamchasers’ from all walks of life to help create a more sustainable future for our planet.

Within the coming months, Brightman will be releasing a new record entitled “Dreamchaser” in January 2013 – a collection of songs that has been influenced by the feelings and challenges of her space adventure. Additionally, in 2013, she will undertake the most comprehensive global tour performing around the world, beginning in Canada at the end of January and visiting all five continents over the following months. Following that, Brightman will embark upon six months of training in Russia ahead of her flight to the ISS.

“We are very enthusiastic to announce Sarah Brightman’s desire to launch to space. I have deep admiration for Sarah, not only for her well deserved title of being the world’s best-selling soprano, but for the young girl who was inspired by Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong to reach for her own star. We look forward to working with her to make her dream a reality,” said Eric Anderson, Chairman of Space Adventures, Ltd.

“I am pleased to announce that Sarah Brightman has been selected to participate in our spaceflight training program. This past July, Ms. Brightman completed and passed all of the required medical and physical evaluations; she’s fit and mentally prepared for our spaceflight training program. We will work closely with Space Adventures in supporting Ms. Brightman’s spaceflight candidacy,” said Alexey Krasnov, Head of Piloted Programs Department.

Throughout the next several months, Brightman will share pictures and experiences via her website (, giving visitors unique insights into her extraordinary journey and learning every step of the way.

Spaceport America Runway Dedication

White Knight Two flyover of Spaceport America Terminal carrying SpaceShipTwo
Image Credit: Barbara David

The two mile runway at Spaceport America in New Mexico was dedicated Friday, 22 October 2010. One of the highlights of the celebration was the flyover and landing of Virgin Galactic‘s White Knight Two carrying the rocket plane Space Ship Two, named Enterprise by Virgin Galactic.

Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, for whom the runway (spaceway) was officially named during the ceremony, commented that:

“We are celebrating the world’s first spaceway at the world’s first purpose-built, commercial spaceport. New Mexico is not only helping to launch the commercial spaceflight industry, but we are launching new jobs and opportunities for the people of southern New Mexico. Today marks a significant milestone on our historic and exciting journey.”

Sir Richard Branson and approximately 30 of more than 380 Virgin Galactic future astronauts attended the event. Two of the future passengers in attendance were Sonja Rohde from Germany and Perveen Crawford of Hong Kong. Both have already paid the full $200,000 price for their flight into space. “It’s like Christmas, you want to go, you can’t wait. It was always a childhood dream to go to space,” Rohde said. Crawford noted that “It’s a bargain compared to the Russians,” referring to the roughly $35 million past space tourists have paid to ride aboard the Soyuz to the International Space Station.

Approach to Spaceport America
White Knight Two carrying Space Ship Two on Approach to Spaceport America
Image Credit: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic – First Free Flight

VSS Free Flight
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Enterprise during its first free flight
Image Credit: Virgin Galactic

Commercial spaceflight took another step forward this past Sunday, 10 October 2010.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, named Enterprise, was dropped from its mother ship at 45,000 feet and successfully completed maneuvers and landing at the test facilities in the Mojave Desert. Enterprise is designed to carry two pilots and six passengers to an altitude of over 100 kilometers.

Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, who was present during the first successful flight, commented that “This was one of the most exciting days in the whole history of Virgin.

The flight was designed to test the release mechanics from the mother ship and then verify the handling and stall characteristics as well as the lift to drag ratio. A complete set of landing maneuvers were executed at a high altitude, and the ship then made its final descent and landing.

Scaled Composites pilot, Pete Siebold, said “The VSS Enterprise was a real joy to fly, especially when one considers the fact that the vehicle has been designed not only to be a Mach 3.5 spaceship capable of going into space but also one of the worlds highest altitude gliders.”

Virgin Galactic will continue testing the new rocket ship during the coming year, and expects to fly its first commercial passengers within 18 months.

George Whitesides, former Executive Director of the National Space Society and current CEO of Virgin Galactic, was also present at the historic flight. Whitesides said, “To see the world’s first manned commercial spaceship landing on a runway is a sight I always dreamed I would behold. Now, our challenge going forward will be to complete our experimental program, obtain our FAA license and safely bring the system into service at Spaceport America, New Mexico.”

First Crewed Flight

First Crewed Flight of VSS Enterprise on 15 July 2010
Image Credit: Virgin Galactic