I’ve made a decision. I’m not saving for retirement. I’m saving for a trip to space. I need to see our blue marble from above. I want to live the Star Trek dream – to go where no one has gone before.
When I first started telling people about my plan to save up for a ticket to space in lieu of retirement, I thought it was cute. “I figure by the time I’m 75, a trip to high Earth orbit will cost less than a decent nursing home.” Now, I’m seeing the undercurrent of nihilism in my semi-facetious dream.
As a millennial of a certain age and privilege, I fit the patterns of the headlines. I have debt and an apartment full of houseplants, am unmarried and without children. I crave “authenticity,” and I definitely don’t have $1.2 million to buy a modest house in my hometown of Los Angeles. I have a basic 401k, but no serious plans for retirement savings. I am not optimistic about our country’s long-term economic prosperity. And my climate anxiety has me googling “states least affected by climate change” and strategizing like a doomsday prepper.
On one hand – the hand that drives past the heartbreaking, proliferating tents and shanty towns that have emerged across the LA basin– I find the ultra-rich’s leisure travel to space obscene and offensive. When Senator Elizabeth Warren recently said that taxes on billionaires who “have enough money to shoot themselves into space” will pay for government investments in infrastructure, childcare, health care, education, and climate change, I blurted out “Amen!” How dare those capitalist oligarchs accumulate enough astronomical wealth to chase astronomical fantasies while nearly a billion people go hungry.
And yet on the other hand – the hand that flips on Star Trek: The Next Generation to numb the existential dread – I find the prospect of seeing our blue marble against the blackness of space tantalizing.
That’s probably the only thing Jeff Bezos and I have in common – a lifelong love of Star Trek. (Did you know he ended his high school valedictorian speech with the words “Space: the final frontier. Meet me there.”?) And now this week, Bezos sent 90-year-old William Shatner, Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701, into that final frontier.
Shatner’s reaction was moving:
“Everybody in the world needs to see the…” *begins weeping* “…It was unbelievable, unbelievable…You look down and there’s the blue down there… and the black up there and it’s just… there is Mother Earth and comfort, and there is death.”
Grabbing Bezos by the shoulders he said, “What you have given me, is the most profound experience” *choking up* “…I could imagine. I’m so filled with emotion about what’s just happened..… it’s extraordinary. It’s extraordinary. I hope I never recover from this. I hope that I can maintain what I feel now… I don’t want to lose it.”
I want that feeling. Love, humility, gratitude, reverence. Awe.
Spaceships and talking computers aren’t what make Star Trek so enchanting. It’s the beautiful reflection we see on screen of humanity’s highest potential. Star Trek episodes from decades ago addressed racism, sexism, transphobia, environmentalism, technological ethics, inequity, and injustice – issues that we’re only beginning to grapple with today.
Star Trek is about everything we can achieve when we work together in service of our most cherished ideals. If Bezos is a true Trekkie, he must feel that in his bones.
Space travel, exploration, and the technological advancements it will bring are, I believe, meaningful and essential. Is it possible that awakenings like Shatner’s could be the shock and awe humanity needs to prioritize people and save our planet? After all, NASA’s Blue Marble photograph sparked activism and became a symbol of the environmental movement of the 1970s. And the beautiful documentary One Strange Rock featuring veteran astronauts telling “the extraordinary story of why life as we know it exists on Earth” also makes a compelling case for the enlightenment that space can engender. (I highly recommend. You can watch it on Amazon!)
Space true believers like Bezos, Musk, Branson, me, and many others believe the discoveries and technological spin-offs that come from space exploration will inevitably lead to all sorts of valuable innovations that will help us here on Earth.
Bezos will not be deterred from his quixotic search for new life and new civilizations. Fine. But I still hope we tax him to the moon. And I hope his fortune isn’t ultimately squandered on vanity and adrenaline.
The disdainful inequalities and lethal destruction that exist on Earth here and now cannot wait. And nonetheless, I cannot wait to go to space. But in the meantime, give me faith in our collective potential and the strength to help fulfill it.