Egyptian engineer Sara Sabry, who founded the Deep Space Initiative nonprofit in order to increase access to space research, became the first Arab and African woman to travel into space.
Two years into a six-year goal to send a citizen to space, Egypt sent Sabry in August with five other passengers on a New Shepard suborbital flight at 106 kilometers altitude which lasted a few minutes. The tallest point on the planet – Mount Everest – is only 8.85 kilometers tall.
Sabry told Al-Monitor she was chosen out of 7,000 applicants, from 160 countries, to experience "the Overview Effect" through the Space for Humanity Citizen Astronaut Program, which was launched in 2021 to allow people from all walks of life to experience space travel.
According to Time Magazine, astronauts and cosmonauts describe the Overview Effect as "the change that occurs when they see the world from above, as a place where borders are invisible, where racial, religious and economic strife are nowhere to be seen. The blue and green Earth appears alive, and yet denuded of people. The atmosphere reveals itself to be what it is: an impossibly thin onion skin that protects us from the killing void of space and yet appears penetrable, destructible."
The Dylan Taylor Foundation describes the effect as "the shift in perception experienced by astronauts when viewing the Earth from space," which can make "the many aspects of society that result in division seem trivial or secondary."
"The citizen astronauts had to commit upon their return to share this experience for the common good, as the program is looking for change-makers from all walks of life," Sabry told Al-Monitor. "I took advantage of the three minutes I spent in space to take a good look at the Earth. The Overview Effect is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts during space flights. Scientists noticed an effect on the brains of astronauts when looking down at the Earth from space, as the planet is seen as a single organism and you don’t see the borders that separate countries."
Sabry explained that the Overview Effect makes people who experience it feel that borders lose their significance.
"The Overview Effect is the experience of seeing the reality of the Earth from space, which is immediately understood to be a small, fragile ball of life, suspended in the void, protected and nourished by a thin envelope. From space, national borders disappear, and the conflicts that divide people become less important, while the need to create a planetary community with a united will to protect this ‘pale blue dot’ becomes both clear and necessary."
Sabry feels that the experience, with all its attendant risks, made her more accepting of the idea of death and confirmed to her that she should work to change the world for the better.
"When I saw the Earth from space, and the expansion of the black universe, I realized that Earth and space are not separate – the Earth is part space, and we humans are part of it. We seek to try to explore and understand it and push humanity forward," she said.
Sabry is working on her doctoral degree in space sciences at the University of North Dakota in the United States; she hopes to be able to travel to the moon and eventually to Mars, and she wants to use her non-profit, Deep Space Initiative, to create more opportunities for people of all backgrounds to enter the space field.
"It is difficult for non-Europeans and non-Americans to enter the space field, so I worked to provide training for various people through the Deep Space Initiative, which aims to increase opportunities in the field of space and enable deep space exploration for all of humanity," she said. "It also coordinates with professionals from different nationalities to encourage them to enter this field, and I have received great support from people at NASA and in Europe."
This article originally appeared on ALL ARAB NEWS and is reposted with permission.