“Star Trek” actor William Shatner became the oldest person to go to space when he lifted off Wednesday morning on Blue Origin’s second crewed flight.
Shatner, 90, was part of a four-person crew who rode inside Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule and experienced a few minutes of weightlessness in suborbital space before coming back down to Earth. Liftoff occurred at about 9:50 a.m. Central time from Blue Origin’s launch site near Van Horn, Texas. The launch was originally set for 9 a.m., but there were two brief holds that delayed the flight.
The actor joined Blue Origin’s vice president of mission and flight operations, Audrey Powers; Chris Boshuizen, who co-founded small-satellite company Planet; and software executive Glen de Vries.
Boshuizen and de Vries were the only paying passengers aboard the flight. Shatner flew as a guest of Blue Origin, which was founded by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.
Shatner, who is best known for exploring space as Capt. James T. Kirk in the original “Star Trek” TV series and movies, said in a statement before the launch that he had “heard about space for a long time now” and was “taking the opportunity to see it for myself.”
As the capsule floated back to the west Texas desert, Shatner could be heard in on-capsule audio saying: “That was unlike anything they described.”
Upon landing back on Earth after the 10-minute flight, Shatner was visibly overcome by emotion. As Bezos greeted the crew members and sprayed celebratory champagne into the air, Shatner stood apart from the rest of his fellow travelers and the assembled crowd of friends, family and Blue Origin employees, seemingly pensive.
He mused to Bezos about rocketing through the atmosphere and seeing the transition between blue sky and the blackness of space, as a nearby camera crew filmed his reaction. He described the sky as “this comforter of blue that we have around us.”
“It’s just, there is mother of earth and comfort and there is … is there, death?” Shatner said. “It has to do with the enormity and the quickness and the suddenness of life and death, and oh, my God.”
He wiped his eyes and touched his chin.
“I am overwhelmed,” Shatner said.
He breaks the Guinness World Record for oldest person to fly to space, which was set this summer by Wally Funk, an aviation pioneer.
Funk flew at the age of 82 on Blue Origin’s first crewed flight to suborbital space, which also carried Bezos, his brother Mark and Oliver Daemen, the son of a Dutch private equity executive and Blue Origin’s first paying customer.
Before Wednesday’s liftoff, the Blue Origin capsule communicator read out messages from that first crew to the individuals strapped into the spacecraft.
“I hope this flight will be the most fantastic experience of your life as it was mine,” Funk said in her message.
Funk’s July flight came about a week after British billionaire Richard Branson flew to suborbital space on his company Virgin Galactic’s space plane, sparking criticism that the space tourism missions by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic were exclusive joy rides for the ultrawealthy.
The companies have touted the opportunity for research to be done in suborbital space.
Critics say the billionaires should use their wealth to improve life on Earth, rather than rocketing themselves to suborbital space.
Analysts say the suborbital space tourism market is unlikely to drastically decrease its customer prices anytime soon. Virgin Galactic, for example, recently reopened its ticket sales for $450,000 a seat. And as the market grows, high-profile customers such as Shatner are key to attracting new customers, said Phil Smith, senior space analyst at space analytics and engineering firm BryceTech.
“That cool factor is going to help generate a buzz,” he said. “William Shatner has been in our living rooms and theaters for so long, and he’s familiar to folks. (His character) represents to a lot of people a hopeful message about our future in space.”
As captain of the Starship Enterprise, Kirk and his crew traveled the universe, explored space — the final frontier — and engaged in space diplomacy as well as battles.
Today, Shatner is the host and executive producer of the History Channel show “The UnXplained,” which is from the producers of “Ancient Aliens” and delves into a variety of mysterious topics, including Bigfoot, plane vanishings and the moon.
Wednesday’s launch comes as 21 current and former Blue Origin employees published a recent letter accusing the company of fostering a sexist and toxic work environment that prioritized speed and cost reduction over quality. In a statement to the site that hosted the letter, Blue Origin said it had “no tolerance” for discrimination or harassment and stands by its safety record.
—Samantha Masunaga, Los Angeles Times