In December of 1972, astronaut Eugene Cernan left his footprints and daughter’s initials in the lunar dust. In doing so, he became the last man to set foot on the moon. Now, after 50 years, humanity is going back. But in the half-century since Apollo 17, a lot has changed in how we explore space—and how we see our place in it.
While those early missions were all run by governments, much of modern spaceflight is the domain of billionaires and their private companies. Commercial space travel has brought a new way of thinking about trips outside Earth’s gravity, with tourism turning space into a vacation and something of a status symbol. It’s also widened the range of people who go to space from the clean-cut white male astronauts of the Apollo era.
New visitors bring new perspectives to space, and that diversity could well change our relationship to it. A year ago, at 90 years old, actor William Shatner rode one of Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin spacecraft. But as he told staff writer Marina Koren, his time in space didn’t line up with the optimism of Star Trek’s Captain Kirk.
Koren and fellow staff writer Adam Harris discuss our changing relationship with space on an episode of the podcast Radio Atlantic. They also listen to some of Koren’s interview with Shatner. You can hear their conversation here:
The following is a transcript of the episode:
Adam Harris: This is Radio Atlantic. I’m Adam Harris.
Marina Koren: And I’m Marina Koren.
Harris: This week on the show, we’re talking about space. We just heard some of our colleagues’ kids talking about space. As a parent myself, it feels like the images of space are inescapable. One of the first T-shirts I remember buying for my daughter was a NASA T-shirt. We have blankets in our house that have moons and rocket ships on them. Is that your recollection of childhood?
Koren: Definitely. I had those glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling. Occasionally one would fall off and spook me, but I recently got a set for my 3-year old nephew. This is a go-to source of wonder and excitement for kids, for sure.
Harris: And I should say that we are both staff writers, but you are the one on the space beat.
Koren: Yes, I am The Atlantic’s outer space bureau chief.
Harris: (Laughs.) And it’s been a big year to be a space reporter, right?
Koren: It has, yeah! We are definitely in this strange new era of exploration. It’s been 50 years since the last time human beings have set foot …….