Actor William Shatner and his three crewmates on Blue Origin’s New Shepard have returned to Earth after a 10-minute trip to space.
Shatner, 90, is the oldest person ever to go to space.
The “Star Trek” star joined Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s vice president of mission and flight operations and a former NASA flight controller and engineer; Chris Boshuizen, the co-founder of satellite company Planet Labs and a former space mission architect for NASA; and Glen de Vries, the co-founder of Medidata Solutions, a life science company.
Famed Star Trek actor William Shatner and a crew of three fellow passengers successfully flew to the edge of space and back this morning on Blue Origin’s New Shepard tourist rocket. The foursome took off from Blue Origin’s launch facility in Van Horn, Texas at 9:50AM ET, climbed to an altitude of roughly 66 miles up, and then safely landed back on Earth.
Flying alongside Shatner today were two paying customers and a Blue Origin employee. They included Chris Boshuizen, co-founder of small satellite company Planet Labs, and Glen de Vries, co-founder of Medidata, a software company. Audrey Powers, vice president of mission and flight operations at Blue Origin, represented the company on the flight.
After Shatner landed
he shed tears, emotional about what just happened. “What you have given me is the most profound experience,” Shatner told Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos after the actor landed. “I’m so filled with emotion about what just happened. I just, it’s extraordinary, extraordinary.
I hope I never recover from this.” Shatner argued afterward that everybody needs to see what he saw, even comparing the experience of transitioning from blue sky to the blackness of space to what dying might feel like. “Is that what death is?” he asked.
This morning’s flight, lasting just a little over 10 minutes in length, marks the second successful crewed launch for Blue Origin on the New Shepard rocket. The company’s first crewed launch on July 20th carried Bezos, who is the former CEO of Amazon.
He flew along with his brother, Mark, a Dutch teenager, and legendary aviator Wally Funk. When Funk flew, she became the oldest person in space at 82 years old, but this morning, 90-year-old Shatner surpassed her.
New Shepard is the company’s primary rocket at the moment. The vehicle is suborbital, so it cannot achieve enough speed to get into orbit around the Earth. Instead, it’s capable of launching crews to the edge of space and back so that riders can experience weightlessness for a few minutes. To get to space, crews launch strapped inside a crew capsule, perched on top of the rocket.
Once high above the Earth, the capsule and rocket separate, and passengers briefly float throughout the cabin. Then, both pieces of the vehicle fall back to Earth; the capsule lands under parachutes while the rocket reignites its engine and lands upright.
Mr Shatner was joined on the flight by Audrey Powers, a Blue Origin vice president; Chris Boshuizen, who co-founded the Earth-imaging satellite company Planet; and Glen de Vries, an executive with the French healthcare software corporation Dassault Systèmes.
They were given a couple of days’ training, although there was nothing really major for them to do during the flight other than enjoy it. The rocket and capsule system, known as New Shepard, is fully automatic.
When the capsule touched down in the Texan desert, it was quickly surrounded by ground teams. Mr Bezos himself opened the hatch to check everyone inside was OK.
After the immediate celebrations with family and friends, the crew then lined up to receive their Blue Origin astronaut pins.
This was only the second crewed outing for New Shepard. The first, on 20 July, carried Mr Bezos, his brother Mark, Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen; and famed aviator Wally Funk.
Afterwards, Ms Funk, being 82, was able to claim the record for the oldest person in space – a title she has now relinquished to Mr Shatner.
The launch comes amid claims that Blue Origin has a toxic work culture and failed to adhere to proper safety protocols. The mostly anonymous accusations made by former and present employees have been strenuously denied.
“That just hasn’t been my experience at Blue,” countered Audrey Powers, who is responsible for mission and flight operations.
“We’re exceedingly thorough, from the earliest days up through now as we’ve started our human flights. Safety has always been our top priority.”
Shatner, aka Captain Kirk, is however not the first “Star Trek” actor to fly to space; that title goes to NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, who appeared in an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.
” (Jemison, who served as a mission specialist on the space shuttle Endeavour in 1992, was also the first Black woman to fly to space.) The ashes of the late actors James Doohan, who portrayed Scotty on Star Trek, and Majel Barrett Roddenberry (who voiced the computer and portrayed Lwaxana Troi on The Next Generation, have also been launched to space, as have those of Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.
Joining Shatner on the NS-18 mission were three other private crewmembers, including Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s vice president of mission and flight operations; Glen de Vries, vice chair for life sciences and healthcare at the French software company Dassault Systèmes; and Chris Boshuizen, co-founder of the San Francisco-based Earth observation company Planet.
An emotional Shatner reiterated to Bezos how in awe he was of what he saw and how it prompted him to consider life and death.
“What you have given me is the most profound experience I can imagine,” he told Bezos. “I hope I never recover from this.”
Shatner, best known for playing Captain James T. Kirk in the “Star Trek” franchise, said in a press release on Oct. 4 that he had “heard about space for a long time now” and was “taking the opportunity to see it for myself.”
But Shatner also admitted to being nervous to go to space.
“I’m terrified!” he said during New York Comic Con last Thursday, according to Space.com. “I know!…I’m Captain bloody Kirk and I’m terrified!”
The launch had been scheduled for Tuesday but forecasted high winds prompted a delay to the following day. Blue Origin announced prior to the launch that it would last just 10 minutes, with the fully automated capsule reaching a maximum altitude of about 66 miles before parachuting back into the desert.