With the “billionaire space race” taking center stage in the media over the past few months, we’ve lost sight of why so many people are passionate about space.
This morning, Jeff Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin launched four people into space, including Star Trek’s own Captain Kirk, William Shatner*. While this flight only lasted mere minutes, the impact on Shatner was abundantly clear as soon as he stepped out of the New Shepard crew capsule after touchdown. Bezos walked up to Shatner and asked how the experience was, to which he replied, “In a way, it’s indescribable.” And as he starts to try to articulate what was most unexpected to him…
…Bezos turns away, interrupting him to pop a bottle of champagne and cheer.
To me, this was such a clear proxy illustration of the disconnect between the idea of the billionaire space race, and what space means to those of us who have chosen it as our life’s passion, our careers.
Shatner waited awkwardly for Bezos and others gathered around the capsule to finish spraying champagne before continuing to describe his experience. The impact was obviously profound: He talked about realizing how thin the dividing line between the comfort of Mother Earth and death in the blackness of space really is.
“I’m so filled with emotion over what just happened,” he said through tears. His thoughts were rambling yet beautiful as he worked to voice them. “I hope I can maintain what I feel now. I don’t want to lose it. It’s…it’s so much larger than me, than life. And it hasn’t got anything to do with little green men, and the blue orb, it doesn’t have anything to do with any of that. It has to do with the enormity, and the quickness, and the suddenness of life and death[…]the vulnerability of everything. It’s so small. This air that’s keeping us alive, it’s thinner than your skin. It’s a sliver. It’s immeasurably small when you think in terms of the universe.”
These words had me and my space friends tearing up. Multiple group chat messages dinged with people expressing their awe of Shatner’s comments. It’s honestly not a reaction I was not expecting to have at this joyride flight for rich folks into space.