Space travel has never really seemed like it was in the realm of possibility for me, but then again, I never thought the future would bring me a tiny espresso machine that could fit in my car’s cup holder. Actually, I don’t have that, but thanks to Facebook’s targeted advertising, I now know that I am, apparently, the kind of person who should want it. There are no pitches for space tourism yet, but that’s just a matter of time. Allow me to preemptively click “no thanks.”
When I was little, my first exposure to the terrors of outer space (or, at least, the ones that I didn’t learn about in Star Wars movies—watch out for monsters in trash compactors, by the way) came from a National Geographic coffee table book.
My parents originally bought me Our Fifty States and Our World, both of which I would later paraphrase without attribution for numerous elementary school reports. So, once you’ve mastered information about Nebraska’s chief export (it’s probably soybeans, but corn looks better on the map illustration), where do you go from there? Yeah, that’s right.
I don’t remember much about 90% of Our Universe. I spent all of my time poring over the back section. It was speculative stuff about Tomorrow with crops grown in giant space stations and artists’ conceptions of furry aliens giving fiery birth to tadpole-like babies.
But the part of Our Universe that left the biggest impression on me was tucked inside the cover flap: a flexi-disc of “space sounds.” The flexi-disc, an innovation/relic of the LP era in which audio was etched onto a floppy plastic sheet, was most often found in magazines and the odd paperback book. I’m not sure why National Geographic didn’t include an honest-to-God record in this oversized hardback. Probably because flexi-discs were way cheaper, but I like to think that they seemed very Tomorrow.
In retrospect, most of these space sounds were probably produced by a guy with a Moog synthesizer and a wire whisk he used to beat an amplified Slinky. But, at the time, I listened to them riveted in fascination and fear. These were the sounds of the Great Void. Transmissions from an alien world. The ghostly echoes of the Big Bang. They were the sounds of my cosmic insignificance, and they scared the hell out of me.
The author as Luke Skywalker.
I was always a jittery kid and harsh noises generally unnerved me anyway, whether I was told they were solar storms or not. But, I still think I internalized the implied cosmic horror on the disc. This was heavy shit for a six year-old. It was at this time that I abandoned any astronautical inspiration that I may have gotten from Luke Skywalker.
Can you imagine the liability release you’ll have to sign when somebody finally gets commercial/recreational space travel off the ground? It’s going to be the size of Our Universe. Possibly a large print edition. I mean, just look at what happens to poor Sandra Bullock in Gravity: slung into space like the chunky kid at the end of the human chain in a game of Crack the Whip. And, judging from what I can see, her luggage gets lost, too.
Granted, she’s supposed to be a professional astronaut, so the risks of things going horribly wrong with one little misstep are a given in that field, I suppose. This is a profession where your commute begins by sitting atop what is basically a skyscraper filled with rocket fuel. Count me out. Dying alone, adrift in the cold void of space with the maddening reverberations of that flexi-disc as the last sounds I hear is not the way I intend to go. More likely, I will go to greet eternity with a lapful of hot espresso.