William Shatner – Captain James Kirk of Star Trek – made his career as an explorer of the cosmos and really did it on Wednesday, becoming the oldest person in space at the age of 90 aboard a rocket flown by billionaire Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin, an experience the actor described as profound.
Shatner was one of four passengers who traveled to the edge of space for 10 minutes and 17 seconds on board the white, fully autonomous 18.3 meter high New Shepard spacecraft, which was about 20 miles from Blue Origin’s launch site (20 miles ) outside the rural town of Van Horn in western Texas.
The crew capsule returned from suborbital flight under parachute in the Texas desert and raised a cloud of dust. Shatner emerged cautiously from the capsule in the desert silence, looking thoughtful, while the others celebrated with cheers and popping champagne bottles.
Bezos was there, hugging Shatner, who wore a hat and blue flight suit with the company name in white letters on one sleeve.
“What you’ve given me is the most profound experience I can imagine,” Shatner said to Bezos as the two chatted for several minutes. “I’m so touched by what just happened.”
The purely civilian crew experienced weightlessness a few minutes after traveling about 106 km above the surface of the earth – higher than the internationally recognized limit of space known as the Karman Line, about 100 km above the earth.
It was the second space tourism flight for Blue Origin, Bezos – the Amazon founder and current CEO, founded two decades ago. Bezos flew on board the first in July.
Shatner – who embodied the promise of space travel in the classic 1960s television series Star Trek and seven subsequent films – said he was preparing for the experience of weightlessness but was stunned by the dramatic contrast between the beauty of the blue earth and the blackness of space.
“You look into the blackness, into the black ugliness,” said Shatner. “And you look down, there is the blue down there – and the black up there – and it’s simple, there is mother earth.”
“This is life and this is death, and in an instant you know – whoa – this is death,” Shatner said. “I have seen that.”
“Is that how death is?” asked Shatner.
Before the flight, each astronaut rang a bell and then entered the capsule on the missile ship, with Bezos closing the hatch. The wind was weak and the sky was clear for takeoff, which was completed after two delays totaling around 45 minutes.
Shatner was joined by former NASA engineer Chris Boshuizen, clinical research entrepreneur Glen de Vries, and Blue Origin vice president and engineer Audrey Powers.
‘Beam me up’
Shatner, who turned 90 in March, has been playing since the 1950s and continues to be involved in entertainment projects and fan get-togethers. He is best known for his role as Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek.
During the opening credits of every episode of the series, he called space “the final frontier” and promised to “explore strange new worlds, seek new life and new civilizations, bravely go where no one has been before”.
“Beam me up,” Shatner’s character told the Enterprise’s chief engineer Scotty, played by James Doohan, in a memorable catchphrase when he needed to be transported to the spaceship.
Shatner’s participation helped draw the public on to Blue Origin as it competes against two billionaire-backed rivals – Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic – to attract customers willing to pay big sums to keep space travel to experience.
The flight marked another major day for the burgeoning space tourism industry, which UBS said could reach $ 3 billion (around Rs 22,590 billion) annually in a decade.
Blue Origin had a successful first space tourism flight on July 20th, with Bezos and three others on board on a journey that lasted 10 minutes and 10 seconds. On this flight, pioneer aviator Wally Funk was the oldest person to reach space at the age of 82. The previous record was set in 1998 when the pioneering astronaut John Glenn returned to space as a 77-year-old US Senator.
Branson opened its space tourism service on July 11th, traveling with six others on a suborbital flight. SpaceX launched its space tourism business by flying the first all-civilian crew to reach Earth orbit in a three-day mission that ended September 18.
In his annual address to world leaders last month, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres criticized “billionaires who go into space while millions are starving on earth”.
When asked about Shatner’s flight, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Wednesday that Guterres “continues to believe what he said in the General Assembly”.
© Thomson Reuters 2021