MINOT, N.D. — "What you’ve given me is the most profound experience I can imagine," said the nonagenarian who had just been rocketed into space.
"I am so filled with emotion about what just happened. It’s extraordinary. I hope I never recover from this," he said, visibly awed as news cameras caught his reaction immediately after stepping out of the capsule he landed in. "I hope that I can maintain what I feel now, I don’t want to lose it. It’s so much larger than me and life; it hasn’t got anything to do with the little green and blue orb. It has to do with the enormity and the quickness and the suddenness of life and death. Oh my god, it’s unbelievable.”
We live in a cynical world. Much of our popular entertainment dwells on hopeless dystopia. Our news media emphasizes and sensationalizes the negative. The term for focused social media reading is "doomscrolling." Even the emergence of billionaire-backed space companies from Bezos and Elon Musk's SpaceX has inspired mockery on the internet, which was developed as a way to foster the dissemination of information and has become a tool for crowdsourcing the indignance of the choleric masses.
Shatner's wonder, for a moment, slashed through the cynicism.
There's nothing new about humans in space. The first manned space flights happened in 1961. Americans landed on the moon less than a decade later in 1969. These days much of communication and media is routed through satellites in space.
But access to the experience of being in space has long been limited to an elite of highly trained scientists and members of the military.
What was pioneering and inspiring about Shatner's trip was what it portends for access to space for the rest of us.
Shatner is no astronaut. He's a 90-year-old actor most famous for playing a space explorer on television. If he can go to space, why can't the rest of us?
"Everybody in the world needs to do this," he said. "Everybody in the world needs to see."
It makes the capitalist in me smile. Our government made the initial investments in a space program that put humanity on the moon. Now the private sector is hard at work democratizing space flight.
Shatner was awed by his first in-person glimpse of "the blue marble."
"A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit," the Greek proverb tells us.
The rest of us should be awed by the human endeavor that might one day make space a place our children choose for a vacation.
Perhaps, for a moment, we can take a break from convincing ourselves that everything is terrible to appreciate that some things are actually pretty great.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.