Captain Kirk of Hollywood, 90-year-old William Shatner, launched into space Wednesday in a fusion of science fiction and reality, on a ship created by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin business.
The “Star Trek” star and three other passengers were propelled to a height of 66.5 miles (107 kilometers) over the West Texas desert in the fully autonomous capsule before safely parachute landing. The flight lasted slightly more than ten minutes.
“What you have given me is the most profound experience,” an ecstatic Shatner told Bezos as he climbed through the hatch, his words flowing out in a soliloquy nearly as long as the journey. “I’m hoping I’m never able to recover from this. I hope I can retain the way I feel right now. I’m not going to lose it.”
He described the feeling of transitioning from the blue sky to the absolute darkness of space as moving: “In a moment, you realize, ‘Whoa, that’s death.’ That is what I observed.”
Shatner established a new record for the oldest person in space, shattering an eight-year-old mark set in July by a passenger on a comparable journey on a Bezos spaceship. The journey featured around three minutes of weightlessness and a glimpse of the Earth’s curvature.
Sci-fi enthusiasts rejoiced at the prospect of seeing the man best known as the courageous and ethical commander of the starship Enterprise boldly go where no American television star had gone before. The internet erupted with quotes from Trekkies, including “Risk: Risk is our business.” That is the purpose of this spacecraft.”
Before liftoff, Blue Origin launch commentator Jacki Cortese stated, “This is a pinch-me moment for all of us to witness Capt. James Tiberius Kirk fly to space.” She, like so many others, was attracted to space by television series such as “Star Trek.”
NASA tweeted their congratulations prior to the trip, writing, “You are, and always will be, our buddy.”
Given the aircraft’s inherent attraction to baby boomers, celebrity viewers, and space aficionados, the journey infused Bezos’ space-tourism company with valuable star power. Shatner appeared in the original “Feature Trek” on television from 1966 to 1969, during the United States’ moon race, and went on to star in a succession of “Star Trek” films.
Bezos is a major “Star Trek” fan — the Amazon founder made a cameo appearance as an alien in one of the later films — and asked Shatner to ride for free.
Shatner, as a favor to Bezos, sent into space some “Star Trek” tricorders and communicators — sort of the future’s iPhones — that Bezos created when he was a 9-year-old Trekkie. Bezos stated that his mother has been preserving them for 48 years.
Bezos personally drove the four crew members to the launch pad, escorted them to the platform high above the earth, and locked the door when they boarded the 60-foot rocket. He was there to welcome them upon the capsule’s return to Earth via its spectacular blue-and-red parachute system.
“Greetings, astronauts. “Welcome to Earth!” said a delighted Bezos as he unveiled the hatch of the New Shepard capsule, named after the first American to reach space, Alan Shepard.
Shatner and the others donned close-fitting, flame-resistant royal blue flight suits, not the tight, futuristic-for-the-’60s V-necks that the Enterprise crew wore on television.
The actor stated that he was shocked by Earth’s fragility and the little size of its atmosphere.
“Everyone on the planet must do this. “Everyone on the planet must see,” he stated. “To watch the blue hue flash past your eyes and suddenly you’re looking into blackness, that’s the thing. We remark, ‘Oh, that’s blue sky,’ when we see this blue covering, this sheath, this blanket, this comforter of blue. And then, all of a sudden, you’re gazing into blackness, into black ugliness.”
Shatner stated that his return to Earth was more jarring than his training had prepared him for and left him wondering if he would make it back alive.
“Everything is significantly more powerful,” he explained. “Bang, this thing slams into me. That was not the simulator. … “Will I be able to withstand the G-forces?”
As the capsule falls, passengers are subjected to roughly 6 G’s, or six times the force of Earth’s gravity. Shatner and the rest of the crew, according to Blue Origin, fulfilled all medical and physical criteria, including the ability to rush up and down multiple flights of stairs at the launch tower.
Shatner’s spaceflight is “the most badass thing I’ve ever seen,” according to Joseph Barra, a bartender who assisted with catering the launch week festivities. “William Shatner is redefining what a 90-year-old man is capable of.”
The voyage comes as the space tourism sector is finally gaining traction, with guests enjoying joyride on spacecraft built and operated by some of the world’s wealthiest individuals.
Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic became the first person to enter space on his own rocket ship in July, followed by Bezos nine days later on Blue Origin’s first crewed trip. SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, launched its first private flight in mid-September, but without Musk on board.
Russia sent an actor and a film director to the International Space Station last week as part of a filmmaking project.
Blue Origin intends to add one more passenger flight this year and several more in 2022, according to the company. In a manner reminiscent of the compassionate and idealistic Captain Kirk, the corporation stated that its mission is to “democratize space.”
Shatner sat in the capsule alongside Audrey Powers, a Blue Origin vice president and former NASA space station flight controller, and two paying customers: Chris Boshuizen, a former NASA engineer, and Glen de Vries, a 3D software developer. Blue Origin has declined to disclose the price of their tickets.
The trip increased the total number of humans who have traveled into space to 597.
“Today’s launch is a testament to the imagination’s strength, and we should never underestimate it,” University of Rochester astronomer Adam Frank wrote in an email.
“While William Shatner may be ‘simply an actor,’ Captain James T. Kirk embodies a communal ideal of a positive future in space that ‘Star Trek’ and science fiction in general bestowed upon us all,” Frank said. “Bezos offered Shatner a place on his rocket because, like millions of others, he fell in love with ‘Star Trek’ and its image of humanity’s endless horizon.”
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.