In the video below, published by NASA Johnson channel and titled “Down to Earth – Black Velvet of Space”, former NASA astronaut William “Bill” McArthur describes how his worldview has been shifted during his time in space.

“It’s such a powerful, personal experience… and as much as we love the pictures that we bring back, it’s not the same as seeing it yourself.”

Down to Earth – Black Velvet of Space
In honor of the space station’s 20th anniversary, NASA Astronaut William “Bill” McArthur shares his experience living and working in space aboard the International Space Station in this episode of “Down to Earth – Black Velvet of Space.” As he describes it, he experienced a shift in his worldview known as “the Overview Effect,” a term coined by space philosopher Frank White (see Notes 1).

Down to Earth – Black Velvet of Space

The transcript of the video:

What was it like to experience life in space?

“When you first get to orbit course, the main engine cuts off, and it’s really funny.”

“It’s really not funny, but it’s fun to watch everyone (onboard). I think everyone takes whatever utensil he or she has and releases it. Because it is… I wanna see something float.”

“Yeah, I feel floaty, but now I wanna see something float.”

“And then, as quickly as you can, uh, particularly, your first-time flyer, it’s… it’s to the window. The first thing you’re overwhelmed is how darn beautiful it is [the Earth]. It’s darn exciting.”

“And so, immediately, you’re trying to identify geographic features, identify places. You look and you see things like a massive thunderstorm, you know, a super cumulonimbus cloud coming up, and it really does come up at you. It’s that tangible nature of what you’re seeing. That really does take your breath away.”

“I worried my family when I was sending them notes… because I started talking about the black velvet of deep space. You look in the sky here on Earth and you know, it’s like Milky Way, or are those thin clouds up there, what am I looking at?”

“But everything is really, really vivid. And I think that’s another part of the visual aspect, whether you’re looking out or looking down. It’s part of… the same thing of taking a picture of someone. Nothing captures vivid colors and texture, and subtlety like the human eye does.”

“And when you’re in space, it’s the same thing. And I think that’s in part… such a powerful, personal experience. And as much as we love the pictures that we bring back, it’s not the same as seeing it yourself.”

“There’s a certain serenity that comes – it’s not just from what you see. It’s from realizing a tremendous goal that you had.”

“And that’s something I felt right after I got in orbit for the first time. You know, heaven forbid, I could perish now and-or I can never fly again – but nothing can take this experience away. I own this experience. It is mine forever.”

Down to Earth - Black Velvet of Space
Down to Earth – Black Velvet of Space

William “Bill” McArthur

William Surles McArthur Jr. (born July 26, 1951) is a retired United States Army colonel and NASA astronaut and a veteran of three Space Shuttle missions and one expedition to the International Space Station via the Russian Soyuz capsule.

Soyuz spacecraft compartments

Related: How do astronauts and cosmonauts go to the International Space Station (ISS) and return back to Earth? Journey to the ISS with Soyuz Spacecraft


1. Frank White

Frank White is best known for his writing of the 1987 book The Overview Effect – Space Exploration and Human Evolution, in which he coined the term “the overview effect”.

He has appeared on The Space Show hosted by Dr. David Livingston and has given numerous speeches at space events.

White also co-authored “Think About Space: Where Have We Been and Where Are We Going?” (1989) with Isaac Asimov.


M. Özgür Nevres

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