Wien: Space Travel (feat. Elon Musk)

by Elise Wien | 1/17/17 2:25am

Maybe you just caught me on an off day, maybe it’s the stagnancy of winter or the dread of the impending inauguration, but it’s time to write about travel and the dull ache in my chest has returned.

It would be easier to imagine that the women of North Mass 310 have been tapped for space travel. It started last Tuesday, when we uncovered an aluminum cylinder from underneath an unholy pile of laundry. It beeped twice, then projected a hologram.

“Hello. I am Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and longtime fan of your sitcom ‘Two Indians and a Jew.’ Many know about my Mars Oasis plans to privatize the colonization of Mars to give the financial elite somewhere to live when they’ve reached the year 2120 and the floodwaters have risen too high to make Earth habitable—”

Me: “What?”

Elon Musk, co-founder of Tesla: “What?”

Me: “What?”

Elon Musk, conceiver of Hyperloop high-speed tube travel: “We are interested in testing our space travel vehicles with early trips to the moon for a select few individuals.”

Corinne: “But that’s not—“

Elon Musk, South African-born billionaire: “No, it’s not on my Wikipedia page.”

Kayuri: “Why us?”

Elon Musk, creator of the computer simulation in which we currently live: “Along with a cadre of space professionals, we need a linguist, Corinne, in case of an ‘Arrival’-type scenario in which we make contact with foreign entities. We will also need a geopolitically-aware economist, Kayuri, to get around the U.N.’s Outer Space Treaty, which holds that the moon belongs to no one nation, so that we can sell plots of the moon to decitizenized financial elites. Elise, we don’t really need you, but you live with them so I guess you’re here for this message.”

Me: “Cool.”

Kayuri and I will go to the moon. When I text Corinne, she says, “No / The moon sucks / It’s not even made of cheese / And it’s probably fake / I like living on the Earth / Gotta stay grounded / Indigenous to the Earth / I would go for a weekend getaway from Travelocity / But only if everyone else was going.”

Me: “As in everyone else on Earth?”

Corinne: “Basically.”

Me: “k”

Corinne: “But really just my friends and family”

Me: “k”

Corinne: “I would hold down the fort here on Earth / [link to a YouTube clip of ‘A Grand Day Out — Landing on the Moon — Wallace and Gromit,’ in which Wallace eats a piece of the moon and tries to identify what type of cheese it is. He slices off a piece of rock like it’s butter. Can he eat the whole moon? What happens then? What happens to the oceans when he eats the whole moon?] / I would have too many errands to run to go to the moon.”

There is, of course, the possibility that we go and nothing gets better. Looking at the Earth from the moon does not make it a different planet. 

I don’t think I mean that space travel is wasted. Gaining new knowledge is exciting and important, because when “we don’t know what we don’t know” (paraphrasing, most famously, former United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, though he was by no means the first person to talk about unknown unknowns), we don’t know what we’ll learn; we cannot yet evaluate the knowledge we will gain. “And if you don’t know, now you know” (quoting, most famously, The Notorious B.I.G., to balance things out). NASA has a lengthy downloadable spreadsheet entitled “Lunar Exploration Objectives.” It seems they, too, are defensive of their mission. 

Running away from your problems is a cliché that worsens when you can’t pinpoint exactly what the origins of your problems are. A dull ache in the chest is not a specific symptom. There are also those held down by a sense of duty: to a family, a community, a project. Those who don’t have the means to travel — those for whom running away is the problem itself. When gravity works extra hard on you, hold fast to these friends. There is a great form of travel in staying put. 

New Hampshire is a good place to be sad because at least it makes sense. 

Elon Musk, playboy who once crashed a million-dollar McLaren, checks his watch. 

He says: “I understand that Kayuri and Elise took Astronomy 2 over sophomore summer, and Corinne took Astronomy 3 — the lab. You are all more than qualified.”

Corinne: “Do you need a passport to go to the moon?”

Elon Musk, inventor of PayPal and father of children with names like “Nevada,” “Saxon” and “Kai”: “No, you do not. Not yet.”