“My space journey was supposed to be a party. Instead, I experienced it as a funeral. »
Of the few people lucky enough to cross the boundaries of space, many have returned transformed. They generally describe a phenomenon since dubbed the overhang effect, which is the result of putting the Earth in perspective, suspended in the center of space.
An experience often described as overwhelming, deeply disturbing and likely to radically change a person’s view of the Earth, nature, the condition of the human species and its extreme fragility. But sometimes when you expect to feel a certain emotion, the opposite can happen; and William Shatner can attest to that.
The experience of the actor, who for a long time played Captain Kirk in the legendary Star Trek series, seems to have been particularly intense. He launched into space in October 2021 aboard a New Shepard rocket from Blue Origin. Together with his three mission mates, he spent about ten minutes at the edge of space and became the oldest space traveler in history.
I know not what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the shore, where now and then I find a smoother stone or a prettier shell than usual , while the great sea of truth lay all undiscovered before me.🚀 pic.twitter.com/ZY2Ka8ij7z
—William Shatner (@WilliamShatner) 13 October 2021
And the least we can say is that he was marked by his stay among the stars. When he returned, he could not hold back his tears and claimed to have lived” deepest experience “. As viewers, we imagined it was a mix of positive emotions… but the reality is much more nuanced than that. In his new autobiographical book, he describes a state of mind that is very different from the usual euphoria of space travelers.
The other side of the overhang effect
“ I love the mysteries of the universe. I love all the questions we asked ourselves through thousands of years of exploration and guesswork…but when I looked the other way, into space, there was no mystery, nothing majestic to contemplate… all i have seen is death “, he admits in the excerpt published by Variety.
“ It was one of the strongest feelings of grief I have ever experienced “, he clarifies. “ The contrast between the vicious cold of space and the gentle warmth of the ground below filled me with overwhelming sadness. “, he delivers.
“ Everything I expected was wrong. I thought going to space would be the ultimate catharsis for the connection I’ve always sought between all living beings. I thought this would be the next wonderful step in understanding the harmony of the universe.…” he continues.
” Every day we face Earth’s own destruction: the extinction of things that took 5 billion years to evolve, and suddenly we will never see them again because of Earth’s intervention. he writes with palpable bitterness. Unlike most of his comrades, therefore, he did not return from the room with a heart full of hope, but ” filled with horror “. ” My space trip was supposed to be a party. Instead, I lived it like a funeral “, concludes the 91-year-old actor.
The psychology of the room, a very important factor
This somewhat morbid tirade, some may see in it a whim of the rich, or even the beginning of depression in a personality approaching the twilight of his life. But in any case, the great honesty shown by the actor makes this testimony quite unique and extremely interesting. In fact, civilians returning from space almost always describe an overwhelmingly positive version of the overhang effect. But in the context of these trade missions, it is not always clear whether this ecstasy is entirely genuine; it could also include a communication effort. After all, seeing amateur astronauts excited about their return to Earth is the best advertisement there is for an operator like Blue Origin!
Shatner’s testimony shows that everyone can live this experience in their own way. And this is a point that operators must definitely take into account in the future; the “psychology of space” will be a crucial element, as much for the short tourist missions as for the extended expeditions that will arrive in the next decades. We certainly have a lot to learn about ourselves before Homo sapiens sapiens becomes a truly interplanetary species.