Issue #4(30) 2021 Opinion

Space travel and environmental sustainability

Stephen Ashworth Voltaire Foundation, Oxford University, England

Star Trek actor William Shatner was keen to describe his feelings to Jeff Bezos after his brief spaceflight in Blue Origin’s New Shepard NS-18: “Everybody in the world needs to do this,” he said. “Everybody in the world needs to see it. It was unbelievable.” Stephen Ashworth uses Shatner’s experience as a launch pad for addressing some of the bigger issues on the environmental responsibility of private space travel participants.

While the younger folks sprayed one another with champagne, Shatner remained thoughtful. One could hear his inner Captain James T Kirk as he continued: “This comforter of blue that we have around us. We think, Oh, that’s blue sky. And then suddenly you shoot through it all of a sudden, as though you whip a sheet off you when you’re asleep, and you’re looking into blackness. Into black ugliness. And you look down. There’s the blue down there. And the black up there… There is mother and Earth and comfort, and, there is… is there death? Is that death?… Look at the beauty of that color. And it’s so thin. And you’re through it in an instant. What you see is black. And what you see down there is light. And that’s the difference… What you have given me is the most profound experience I can imagine… What I would love to do is to communicate, as much as possible… the vulnerability of everything. This air which is keeping us alive is thinner than your skin.”

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