Hollywood’s Captain Kirk, 90-year-old William Shatner, blasted into space Wednesday aboard a ship built by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin company, becoming the oldest person in space, but his response to what he saw wasn't what many might expect.
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. The flight included about three minutes of weightlessness and a view of the curvature of the Earth.
Immediately after his emergence from the capsule, Shatner's exhilarated reaction was expected.
“What you have given me is the most profound experience," an exhilarated Shatner told Bezos after emerging from the capsule. “I hope I never recover from this. I hope that I can maintain what I feel now. I don’t want to lose it.”
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But what came next was a stark contrast.
He said that going from the blue sky to the utter blackness of space was a moving experience: "In an instant you go, whoa, that’s death. That’s what I saw.”
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 color 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.”
He 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?”
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.
Sci-fi fans reveled 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.”
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.
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 himself drove the four crew members 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 of the New Shepard capsule, named for first American in space, Alan Shepard.
Blue Origin said it plans one more passenger flight this year and several more in 2022. Sounding like the humane and idealistic Captain Kirk himself, the company said its goal is to “democratize space.”
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.
Shatner plans to get right back to his work as Captain Kirk now that he's back down to Earth, traveling to Indiana and Illinois for some of his first trips as an astronaut this weekend.
“I’m doing Space, then Indiana Comic Con, & then on Sunday Wizard World Chicago,” he tweeted.