I’m strapping myself in for a ride to the edge of the sky. Outside my porthole, the ground crew is preparing the vehicle for launch. The entry hatch is sealed, the mobile gantry pulled away. All systems are go. Soon, powerful thrusters will accelerate us to more than 500 miles per hour. At the peak of our trajectory, we will soar above about 80 percent of the atmosphere. The view of Earth will be panoramic.
Then the person behind me kicks my seat. Somewhere in the cabin a baby starts to cry. The college kid next to me slouches in her seat and flips through a magazine. Okay, so maybe a morning flight from JFK to Chicago isn’t all that glamorous. But think about it: At a time when people are lining up to pay $200,000 for suborbital rocket rides, I can soar to thirty or forty thousand feet for a fraction of the price—with beverages and pretzels thrown in for free. Now that’s a deal.
I didn’t use to care about looking out airplane windows. Like a lot of people, I stuck to aisle seats and spent most of my time wishing I were back on the ground. Then I took an introductory flying lesson and got hooked on small planes. Working toward my pilot’s license, I learned pilotage, the art of figuring out where you are by studying what you see on the ground. It’s surprisingly hard: things don’t always appear quite like you expect them to. But once you learn to understand the view from on high, the once-incomprehensible jumble becomes infused with meaning and, by extension, beauty. After learning how to interpret the landscape, flying wasn’t just transportation anymore. It was a real-life IMAX show.