Since 1961, 553 people have reached Earth’s orbit and each has come back with their own space story, from the bland food to the impact of zero gravity to space memorabilia and the mind-altering sensation of seeing Earth from above.
Here’s a list of interesting space stories that will get you excited for the future of zero gravity.
The Overview Effect
The Overview Effect is the experience of seeing Earth from above for the first time. Most astronauts realize just how small they are and how beautiful the planet is.
The first to experience this sensation was Yuri Gagarin in 1961 during the height of the Cold War Space Race. Yuri famously said:
“Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it.”
Over 60 years later, hundreds of astronauts and now space tourists have had a similar experience.
After his first trip to space, Neil Armstrong famously said:
“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”
Former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino said he found it difficult to look at Earth from above during his first trip to space. It felt as if he was looking at a secret that should remain invisible.
Similar experiences have been reported by space tourists like Richard Garriott, who was the sixth paying space tourist to travel to the International Space Station.
Garriott reported life-changing emotions during his time in space. In particular, a shift in perspective that makes you feel at one with the planet.
Man-Made Structures… From Space?
Astronauts have reported the natural beauty of Earth from afar for over six decades– while the quality of cameras and footage from space has increased from grainy black-and-white footage to breath-taking high-fidelity images, human eyes have taken in the same grandeur.
Weather patterns, storms, clouds, and changes in the Earth’s geography.
Deserts, rainforests, and snow patches can be seen worldwide.
But now, astronauts and space tourists are reporting visible man-made changes too.
One of the most vivid reports came from Garriott, who realized just how much we’re impacting nature. Garriot reported how much rainforests are being cut and burnt down throughout Africa and the Amazon.
He also reported seeing the impact of mining in deserts, how damming rivers has blocked off certain routes, and how every mountain range now has roads through the passes.
Although the planet is naturally beautiful, being in space lets you truly understand just how much humans are impacting it.
Since human spaceflight began, astronauts have brought all sorts of personal items and other Earthly objects into space.
During the 2011 NASA Juno mission, intended to study Jupiter, three custom Lego figurines made it on board alongside state-of-the-art sensors and a camera known as JunoCam, which can be viewed on Twitter. The figurines represented the Roman god and goddess of Jupiter and the astronomer Galileo Galilei, who laid the foundation for future research on Jupiter centuries after his research.
A Beef Sandwich
One of the most famous items brought onto a flight was a controversial corned beef sandwich. In 1965 U.S. astronaut John Young smuggled a corned beef sandwich on board the Gemini 3 aircraft. After sharing with his crewmate Gus Grissom, the sandwich broke apart, to which Young responded: “It was a thought… not a very good one”.
Other food items have since been brought into space (though this time, they were planned.) These include a Pizza from Pizza Hut and a pie sent in 2016 as part of the World Pie Eating Championships.
During the first civilian-managed SpaceX mission on September 15, 2021, Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Chris Sembroski, and Sian Proctor brought various unique items on their trip. These would later be auctioned off to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Items included:
- An NFT (nonfungible token) song by Kings of Leon
- 50 art NFTs
- 66 pounds of hops for an official beer
- A ukulele
- The latest Time Magazine, which covers all four crew members
The First Experience of Zero Gravity
Zero gravity stories make for some of the most interesting (and entertaining) of all space experiences. While each story is unique, the emotions, thoughts, and common mistakes are shared by astronauts during their first few flights.
Steve Swanson, a former NASA astronaut, mentioned his difficulty when first entering zero gravity:
“The first thing I really noticed is I am a klutz in space. I cannot move well at all. It took a while to not feel like you were just a moron,”
Disorientation is a common theme throughout many stories, with astronauts struggling to adapt to the fact that there’s no up or down.
Moving around in zero gravity appears to be difficult for most at first, as mentioned by Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazansky. Ryazansky highlighted the importance of moving slowly, similar to a cat.
Final Thoughts: These Experiences Are No Longer Exclusive To Astronauts
Seeing Earth from space was once something people would only ever experience in movies and documentaries. But with space tourism on the rise, more people than ever before will get to experience these breathtaking sights and things like the Overview Effect themselves.
As zero gravity develops, it can be used for more scientific research and for creating personal experiences and the kinds of memories with friends and family one will never forget.