Hollywood’s Captain Kirk, 90-year-old William Shatner, blasted into space Wednesday in a convergence of science fiction and science reality, reaching the final frontier aboard a ship built by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin company.
The “Star Trek” hero and three fellow passengers hurtled to an estimated 66 miles (106 kilometres) over the West Texas desert in the fully automated capsule, then safely parachuted back to Earth in a flight that lasted just over 10 minutes.
“What you have given me is the most profound experience,” an exhilarated Shatner told Bezos after climbing out of the hatch, the words spilling from him in a soliloquy almost as long as the flight. “I hope I never recover from this. I hope that I can maintain what I feel now. I don’t want to lose it.”
He said that going from the blue sky to the blackness of space was a moving experience that made him wonder, “Is that the way death is?”
Shatner became the oldest person in space, eclipsing the previous record – set by a passenger on a similar jaunt on a Bezos spaceship in July – by eight years.
Sci-fi fans revelled in the opportunity to see the man best known as the stalwart Capt. James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise boldly go where no star of American TV has gone before.
“This is a pinch-me moment for all of us to see Capt. James Tiberius Kirk go to space,” Blue Origin launch commentator Jacki Cortese said before liftoff. She said she, like so many others, was drawn to the space business by shows like “Star Trek.”
NASA sent best wishes ahead of the flight, tweeting: “You are, and always shall be, our friend.”
The blastoff brought priceless star power to Bezos’ spaceship company, given its built-in appeal to baby boomers, celebrity watchers and space enthusiasts. Shatner starred in TV’s original “Star Trek” from 1966 to 1969, back when the U.S. was racing for the moon, and went on to appear in a string of “Star Trek” movies.
Bezos is a huge “Star Trek” fan – the Amazon founder had a cameo as an alien in one of the later “Star Trek” movies – and Shatner rode free as his invited guest.
As a favour to Bezos, Shatner took up into space some “Star Trek” tricorders and communicators – sort of the iPhones of the future – that Bezos made when he was a 9-year-old Trekkie. Bezos said his mother had saved them for 48 years.
Bezos himself drove the four to the pad, accompanied them to the platform high above the ground and cranked the hatch shut after they climbed aboard the 60-foot rocket. A jubilant Bezos was there to greet them when the capsule floated back to Earth under its brilliant blue-and-red parachutes.
“Hello, astronauts. Welcome to Earth!” Bezos said as he opened the hatch and was embraced by Shatner. The capsule, New Shepard, was named for first American in space, Alan Shepard.
Shatner said he was struck by the vulnerability of Earth and the relative sliver of its atmosphere.
“Everybody in the world needs to do this. Everybody in the world needs to see,” he said. “To see the blue colour whip by and now you’re staring into blackness, that’s the thing. The covering of blue, this sheath, this blanket, this comforter of blue that we have around, we say, `Oh, that’s blue sky.’ And then suddenly you shoot through it all, and you’re looking into blackness, into black ugliness.”
The actor said the return to Earth was more jolting than his training led him to expect and made him wonder whether he was going to make it home alive.
“Everything is much more powerful,” he said. “Bang, this thing hits. That wasn’t anything like the simulator. … Am I going to be able to survive the G-forces? Am I going to be able to survive it?”
Passengers are subjected to nearly 6 G’s, or six times the force of Earth’s gravity, as the capsule descends. Blue Origin said Shatner and the rest of the crew met all the medical and physical requirements, including the ability to hustle up and down several flights of steps at the launch tower.
Shatner going into space is “the most badass thing I think I’ve ever seen,” said Joseph Barra, a bartender who helped cater the launch week festivities. “William Shatner is setting the bar for what a 90-year-old man can do.”
The flight comes as the space tourism industry finally takes off, with passengers joyriding aboard ships built and operated by some of the richest men in the world.
Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson kicked off the U.S.-based space tourism boom in July, riding his own rocket ship to space. Bezos followed nine days later aboard his own capsule. Elon Musk stayed behind as his SpaceX company launched its first tourist flight last month.
Last week, the Russians launched an actor and a film director to the International Space Station for a movie-making project.
“We’re just at the beginning, but how miraculous that beginning is. How extraordinary it is to be part of that beginning,” Shatner said in a Blue Origin video posted on the eve of his flight.
Shatner strapped in alongside Audrey Powers, a Blue Origin vice president and former space station flight controller for NASA, and two paying customers: Chris Boshuizen, a former NASA engineer who co-founded a satellite company, and Glen de Vries of a 3D software company. Blue Origin would not divulge the cost of their tickets.
Blue Origin said Shatner and the rest of the crew met all the medical and physical requirements, including the ability to hustle up and down several flights of steps at the launch tower. Passengers are subjected to nearly 6 G’s, or six times the force of Earth’s gravity, as the capsule returns to Earth.
Shatner shooting into space is “the most badass thing I think I’ve ever seen,” said Joseph Barra, a bartender flown in from Los Angeles to help cater Blue Origin’s launch week festivities. “William Shatner is setting the bar for what a 90-year-old man can do.”
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