I associate receiving texts at unusual hours of the day with emergencies, so I felt a bit of anxiety when I heard my phone go off a few days ago right around the time I woke up. It turned out to be my cousin reminding me that William Shatner was going to space. I did not rearrange my schedule to watch it live.
I did read about it afterwards and Shatner's reaction, as reported here, was more interesting than I'd expected:
But Shatner’s comments on return stood this all on its head. His reactions weren’t about first steps on the precipice, with him as some network TV spaceman Moses walking to the edge of the promised land others will explore. He spoke of space as death, darkness, ugliness. He describes having the blue blanket of the Earth’s atmosphere suddenly ripped away moments after takeoff. Suddenly you’re in darkness. “Is it death?” he asks Bezos. He described this as akin to having a blanket suddenly ripped off you before you’re ready to get out of bed.
I had a roommate one summer between college and grad school who watched a Star Trek episode every night. Not the original series or the next generation but one of the later ones, probably Voyager. One night there was an episode where nothing happened and the lack of happenings became the central tension in the story. With no cultures to contact, no elements to battle, no unusual phenomena to study, nothing but the vast emptiness of space all around them, the crew struggled to maintain their sanity. But they survived their challenge as they always did, episode after episode.
The go-to metaphor for people who can't help but relate space exploration to early American colonial expeditions is Lewis and Clark: they were, it's said, "the first astronauts." But they had guides, they crossed lands where people had been living for thousands of years, and they weren't even the first English-speaking people to see the Pacific coast or to cross North America. The regular contact in the fictional world of Star Trek episodes more closely resembles their journey than actual trips into orbit.
When I watched that episode about the nothingness of space I didn't think of overland journeys but instead about the memoirs and journals I've read about ocean voyages by sail, how they often talked about long stretches at sea where very little happened, days of nothing but water, weather, and sky. And it occurred to me that that episode, which presents boredom as unusual, might turn out to be the most accurate depiction ever made of what the day to day experience of space exploration is really going to be like.