Reviews | Millionaire space tourism doesn’t come with a guarantee of fear


These were the kind of transcendent moments we could hope to enjoy when we book an adventure trip. But what they all had in common was an unforeseen ingredient. They relied on chance, whether in the form of weather conditions or animal idiosyncrasy. The high-flying emotions they triggered – the kind that show up as goosebumps, sometimes even tears – came spontaneously.

Some occasions, on the other hand, when I was not feeling amazed: hunting down gorillas in Uganda, seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre in the midst of a crowd of people who took pictures of her with their cell phones, on every safari I took part in. These experiences were certainly remarkable. But they were far from sublime.

Space tourism belongs to that subset of seemingly awesome experiences that often seem disappointing precisely because they come with a heeded promise of fear.

On the one hand, space tourists probably get on board with a fairly good simulation of the experience already imprinted in their minds. Westernized and space-curious, customers of the new space tourism outfits will have watched modern cannon of astronautical drama, including “Gravity” and “Interstellar”. During the upstream training, they will have been trained and prepared for every moment that they will pass in sub-orbit. The feeling of surprise which is arguably the most vital prerequisite for experiencing wonder will have been watered down by the months of forethought and demystification.

Often the problem is simply a problem of context. Do you have any preconceived expectations about the experience? How exposed are you to the thing you are observing? Is the activity ethically heavy? These potential distractions may seem coincidental. But they all have the potential to hinder our ability to enjoy genuine fellowship with the sublime.

It’s the difference between going on an organized 20-person tour to see the Northern Lights and, say, camping out on your own in a Scandinavian wilderness and being awakened from your tent by the spectral green ripples of the dawn lighting up the web. The first will be fun, even memorable. You will take some pretty pictures and get lots of hearts on Instagram. The second might make you feel like you have been touched by grace.

The scientific study of fear is still in its infancy, but this fear junkie’s intuition is supported by a growing body of research. “One of the most striking discoveries of our 15 years of study is how often to find the extraordinary in the ordinary: the generosity of a friend to a homeless person on the street, watching the light and shadow play of a leafy tree on a sidewalk, ”said Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at Berkeley and author of a book on fear due out next year.


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