Inspiration4 Reveal They Felt the 'Overview Effect' in Space — What to Know About the Phenomenon

"It was emotionally moving beyond what I thought it would be," civilian astronaut Chris Sembroski tells PEOPLE in this week's issue

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Hayley Arceneaux in the Dragon's cupola . Photo: Inspiration4

As the world's first civilian astronaut crew to orbit Earth, the Inspiration4 crew has had experiences that most can only dream of.

"I'm still buzzing with excitement for all the stuff we just went through," commander Jared Isaacman — the 38-year-old billionaire who paid SpaceX for all four seats aboard a Dragon spacecraft — tells PEOPLE in this week's issue.

One of those experiences is the "Overview Effect," a powerful phenomenon coined by space author and philosopher Frank White to describe how seeing the planet from space can change a person's perspective on Earth — and life.

Thanks to their Dragon capsule's unique cupola — a dome window that SpaceX calls the largest continuous window ever in space — all four crew members were able to stand near the top of their spacecraft and take in 360-degree views from space. After reaching their orbiting altitude of 366 miles above Earth last week, civilian astronaut Chris Sembroski played the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey on his iPad as the crew slid open a hatch door to reveal the nearly 4-foot diameter window.

"The Earth filled the entire thing," says Sembroski, a 42-year-old data engineer who served as the mission specialist. "It was emotionally moving beyond what I thought it would be."

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The Inspiration4 crew in the Dragon's cupola. Inspiration4

Hayley Arceneaux — a 29-year-old St. Jude physician assistant who became the youngest American, first pediatric cancer survivor and first person with a prosthesis to orbit Earth — saw the opportunity as a profound gift.

"Getting to see the planet and how 3D it was, you just kept thinking, 'We need to take care of her,' " says the mission's medical officer. "I just had this overwhelming sense of gratitude that I got to see that perspective."

Dr. Sian Proctor — the 51-year-old geoscientist, professor and artist who became the first Black woman to serve as a pilot for a space mission — says it was an experience she'll be sharing with her students.

"For me as a geoscientist, just having that beautiful view and seeing our environment in the clouds and everything, it's art," she says. "Our planet is beautiful. On that grand scale, you could never imagine."

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Inspiration4 crew. SpaceX

"It's burned into my brain, that image of our planet from the cupola, and I just keep seeing it again and again — and I'm just amazed," Proctor adds. "So beautiful."

But the mission highlight, the crew says, was sharing the view with kids fighting cancer at St. Jude. It was especially meaningful to Arceneaux, who beat cancer at St. Jude when she was 10 and works there now as an adult. "Even before the mission, what I was looking forward to the most was talking to the St. Jude patients, and that is going to be the thing I take away the most from the mission," Arceneaux says. "Getting to share that with the kids and show them what their future can look like was a huge honor for me."

For more on Inspiration4's history-making mission benefitting St. Jude, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

The mission will continue to help St. Jude patients. After paying SpaceX an undisclosed amount for the flight last year, Isaacman — a billionaire who made his fortune with the payment processing company Shift4 Payments — launched a $200 million fundraising campaign for the children's hospital. He donated the first $100 million, and after a $50 million donation from SpaceX founder Elon Musk, the total has exceeded $220 million.

"We've all worked so hard trying to get the word out," Arceneaux says, "and we all have so much love for St. Jude."

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