Space tourists won't find the awe they seek. Flying skyward is one of those experiences that often feels anticlimactic because it promises the sublime.

Why would a student-tourist want to take a trip to space? For a wealthy thrill seekers able to pay upwards of $450,000 for a seat with commercial space projects such as Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, the answer is likely to involve the pursuit of awe or wonder.

Philosophers call the type of sensory and aesthetic stimuli that provoke it the sublime.

On its face, the kind of short flight to the edge of space that looks set to be the predominant mode of space tourism, at least in the short term, seems the very definition of what the psychologist Abraham Maslow called a '' peak experience '' The kinetic thrill of rocketing to an altitude of over 50 miles, combined with the astonishing perspective it affords of our planet, invites us to believe that few adventures could be more profound.

But picture the millionaire awe chaser when the big day comes around, and the capsule he has booked a seat on hurtles skyward into the deep blue of the upper atmosphere.

The whole escape is being recorded by HD cameras. A dulcet computer-generated voice provides the commentary. The chair is uncannily comfortable. The ride, controlled by cutting edge A.I. technology, is disconcertingly smooth. Champagne is waiting for the passengers on the landing pad.

Under such contrived conditions, awe will always be a chimera. That which we explicitly pursue will always, to a greater or lesser extent, remain out of reach.

The appeal of the sublime has been a subject of conjecture and interpretation for as long as humans have pondered the stars. Existing at the intersection of joy and fear, the feeling it can elicit are best understood as a paradox : the sensation of feeling enriched by  way of feeling diminished.

A person might experience it while standing on a mountainside when a storm rolls in are peering down down the gullet of a thunderous waterfall. The transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson memorably called it his '' transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all.''

The writer Shannon Stirone described it as '' the simultaneous shrinking and expanding of our hearts.''

We covet the experience of sublimity because it hints at mysteries and forces beyond the realm of the ordinary human understanding. And it is good for us. Neuroscientists discovered that regular doses of awe can boost critical thinking, physical health and emotional well-being. Studies have also shown that it makes us kinder and more empathetic.

But chasing it missed an essential element of awe, which is that so much of its potency depends on factors that commercial spaceflight seem custom designed to negate.

In many years of working as a travel writer - which I've often thought of as working the awe beat - I've come to understand that awe cannot be easily choreographed .

Some of the times I have experienced awe; An hour of avalanches rumbling down the south face of Annapurna under a full moon. Fork lightning strobing across the empty deck of a cargo ship on Lake Victoria. An eagle hovering 20 feet above my shoulder in the Chilean tundra.

These were the sort of transcendentalist moments we might hope to enjoy when we book a trip for adventure. But what they all had in common was some unanticipated ingredient.

They relied on serendipity, whether in the form of weather conditions or animal idiosyncrasy. They high-flown emotions they triggered -the sorts that manifest in goose bumps sometimes even tears - come unbidden.

The Publishing continues. The World Students Society thanks author Henry Wismayer.


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