On this episode of Lifespan News, William Shatner (Star Trek’s Captain Kirk) goes to space for real and returns with a renewed outlook on life and death.
William Shatner is best known as the original Captain Kirk on Star Trek, but he voyaged to the edge of space for real thanks to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his company Blue Origin. The experience, which made Shatner the oldest human to venture to space, also brought him to tears, and upon returning he described experiencing the blackness of death and the fragility of life. We’ll explore this more on this episode of Lifespan News!
Blue Origin’s live broadcast of the launch captured Shatner’s conversation with Jeff Bezos moments after safely returning to Earth. Here’s a bit of what that sounded like.
This profound experience that Shatner is describing is called the Overview Effect. It’s a cognitive shift in awareness that has been reported by astronauts and cosmonauts from Yuri Gagarin on. And while the number of people who have had the opportunity to experience the Effect firsthand is small but growing, being able to see the Earth from space has already impacted all of us.
This is the famous Earthrise photo, taken on Christmas Eve 1968 during the Apollo 8 mission, and deemed one of the most important photographs ever taken. While the view was certainly impactful for the astronauts onboard, it also had a huge influence back on Earth. The rise of the environmental movement and the creation of Earth Day has been attributed, at least in part, to the effect of this photo and others like it, which showed this new perspective on Earth for the first time in history.
And while, in the 1960s, humans turned their view down to Earth for the first time and gained a new appreciation for the fragility of our planet and a need to take care of it, Shatner seemed more impacted by looking in the other direction, out into space, which he described as cold, ominous ugliness that threatens death. In one direction, he was reminded of the beauty of life and the need to protect it, and in the other he saw death, and the experience brought him to tears.
We’ve seen the positive impacts that space travel can have on humanity, even for those who haven’t yet made the trip for themselves. This new perspective and awareness launched a movement to protect our planet decades ago, and if Shatner’s experience is any indication, it could very well launch a movement to protect life and fend off death in the years ahead.
It’s worth noting that Jeff Bezos, who has made this trip himself, is heavily invested in a new company, Altos Labs, intending to do just that. You can learn more about his efforts in life extension in our episode linked below.
So, what does the future hold? We’ll, it’s a bit early to tell, but it appears as though humanity’s drive to explore space and our desire to overcome death could become more and more interconnected, and could feed off of and support one another.
Some may argue that investing in space is foolish, especially while there are pressing issues here on Earth. There’s also arguments that say that life extension is selfish and pulls resources away from other problems. I disagree with both of these points of view, and I think they demonstrate a shortsightedness that fails to account for the positive impacts that both space exploration and life extension science have on humans alive today as well as on those yet to come.
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