Marc Katz

Readings for Space Tourists

There’s been a lot of noise recently about space tourism. Test launches of specially designed shuttles are in progress. A hub spaceport in the New Mexican desert has just been built. And at least half a dozen firms (Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, among others) are dividing up the market for three-hour suborbital trips, each of them guaranteeing views of Earth with the purest sightlines. “There’s plenty of opportunity,” says one booster, for “out-of-this-world snapshots.” And yet while the view may make for a perfect icon, it doesn’t easily lend itself to the conventions of sightseeing. Getting a look at Earth is not like approaching a landmark: the view emerges as you back away, so it’s rendered rather than disclosed. You see not only where you’re coming from, but also everywhere you’ve ever been, all at once, from a destination point that’s next to nowhere. That, in fact, is part of the allure, since the view holds out the promise, vague but powerful, of near-transcendent vision. Omniscience, seamless mobility, a life outside the body and beyond time: the effort to look at our planet from elsewhere is loaded with half-hidden mythic impulses. On pages 50, 100, and 114 of this issue you will find my suggested readings for space tourists, to help clarify some of these impulses and to make sure you get the most for your travel dollars.

—Marc Katz

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Marc Katz teaches literature and humanities at Scripps College, in Claremont, California. He lives in the Silverlake district of Los Angeles.

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