I’m writing this column the day of the Blue Origin space launch, where William Shatner, along with three other passengers, took Jeff Bezos’s New Shepard launch vehicle into suborbital space. Shatner was visibly shaken and very emotional by the flight and mentioned what a profound experience it was. He said, “I hope I never recover—that I can maintain what I feel now. I don’t want to lose it. It’s so much larger than me and life.”
No matter your feelings on Bezos and his Blue Origin or Elon Musk and his SpaceX missions, one thing’s for sure: they’re making history and stirring up many emotions in those who take the flights as well as those who witness them. I know there is controversy over space exploration in general, but I’m not interested in delving into that—I am fascinated with the emotion and thought that space exploration evokes.
For me, and obviously Shatner, it drives home just how insignificant and teeny-tiny our planet and everything on it really is. That includes us humans. “What I would love to do is to communicate as much as possible the jeopardy—the moment you see how vulnerable… the vulnerability of everything—it’s so small,” described Shatner about seeing Earth below from the blackness just above the thin layer of blue atmosphere they broke through within a few seconds’ time. I’m just guessing that this feeling is pretty common among the passengers and crew of these Blue Origin and SpaceX flights, not to mention regular astronauts worldwide throughout history. The perspective they get just has to be life-changing.
I wonder, after experiencing space flight of any sort, if one can really go back to “regular” life as it was? Do these people come back and still stress out over relationship issues, job woes, time-management troubles or minor health problems? Do they get upset over conflict, overthinking, money (probably not) or disagreeable social media posts? All of this day-to-day minutiae is just part of being human, but to me it would seem like it would all be so trivial after such an experience. I feel that way after just viewing space launches, and I have since I was a kid.
This world seems massive at times. But in reality, when you look at it from all that we have learned in the last 60 years, it is so incredibly small from a universal standpoint. When you read the definition of ‘universe’ from Wikipedia, it really makes it seem small: The universe is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, galaxies, and all other forms of matter and energy. The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological description of the development of the universe.
The theme of how small and insignificant we are in the universe is what has always helped me reset when things in life seemed overwhelming. When you apply that perspective, you realize that so many of the things we humans get torqued about—the drama we get wrapped up in—it’s all so insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I try to remember to employ “The Four Agreements,” by Don Miguel Ruiz—especially numbers 2 and 3. Number 2 is Don’t Take Anything Personally, and Number 3 is Don’t Make Assumptions. Those two agreements alone can take the wind out of any overblown drama one has going on and help to remind you to never take yourself or anyone else too seriously. They help one stay humble.
We are all teeny-tiny parts of one giant universe and we all put on our pants the same way (one leg at a time). If we kept this in mind with every interaction, this tiny world could become a much nicer place. I want the feeling all the time that William Shatner had after stepping back out of the space capsule: “I’m so filled with emotion about what just happened. It’s extraordinary… extraordinary.” He was so filled with joy, awe, elation and inspiration, I can’t imagine that all that won’t carry over in every thought and action for him from now on.