In what may have been one of the most hyped and anticipated space missions in recent history, the man known to millions as Captain James T. Kirk, William Shatner, made history yesterday. He became the oldest person yet to launch into space and appeared to have returned a changed person.
The “Star Trek” icon, who just turned 90-years-old, was part of a four-person crew who launched into low Earth orbit and returned to the planet around 11 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Shatner was part of the Blue Origin mission, dubbed NS-18. It became the second human-crewed mission from Jeff Bezos’ space private space company.
More than a million people watched the Blue Origin live stream on YouTube. At the same time, television networks around the world broadcast the launch.
Shatner was joined by three others for the trip, which lasted just about ten minutes from start to finish. The Vice President of Mission and Flight Operations for Blue Origin, Audrey Powers, was part of the team and entrepreneur Chris Boshuizen and the owner of a medical software firm, Glen de Vries. The latter were paying customers, and Bezos said he’s sold more than $100 million in tickets for his rocket ride.
According to USA Today, the Blue Origin “New Shepard” rocket topped out at 66 miles in the sky before descending back to Earth. The capsule landed gently in the Texas desert, while the booster (powered by the BE-3 engine) fell nearly all the way back but used its own thrust to level out and come to a rest on its landing gear.
Commentator and Blue Origin employee Ariane Cornell explained on the live stream that the ship’s capsule was designed with human spaceflight in mind. This was why Shatner and the others were strapped into harnesses but wore no helmets. The capsule was pressurized, and the passengers were positioned in such a way where they could watch the launch unfold before their eyes.
Emotional Reaction by Captain Kirk
Shatner had been a frequent guest on television news programs before the launch and granted quite a few interviews as well. He famously said that he was “terrified” of the prospect of going into space.
He also told CNN on Monday that he felt “comfortable, but I am also uncomfortable.”
“I’ll be very happy when we go up, and we’ll be in weightlessness, and we know we’re safe because everything else should be alright, and we have that moment of inspiration which I feel will be there when we’re looking into the vastness of the universe,” Shatner said.
But he completely changed his tune when he climbed out of the capsule. While the other three new astronauts hugged their family and sprayed champagne, Shatner embraced Bezos and shared some heartfelt thoughts about mortality, the fragility of the Earth, and why everyone should experience something like this.
“I can’t tell you what you have done,” Shatner said to Bezos. “Everybody in the world needs to do this. Everybody in the world needs to see … it was unbelievable.”
Shatner appeared to tear up more than once as he spoke, while Bezos and girlfriend Lauren Sanchez comforted the legendary actor.
Shatner in Zero Gravity
“The little things… like weightlessness,” Shatner said. “But to see the blue come up and whip by and now you’re staring into blackness. That’s the thing. The covering of blue … this sheet, this blanket, this covering of blue that we have all around us. And then suddenly you shoot through it all … like when you whip off a sheet when you’re asleep, and you’re looking in blackness. Into black ugliness.”
“And you look down, and there’s the blue down there… and the black up there … there is Mother Earth and comfort,” Shatner said as he pointed toward the sky, “is there death? I don’t know. Is that the way death is?”
After some time, Shatner told Bezos that he thought that Blue Origin could use goggles to replicate the experience of spaceflight for people. He also told Bezos that the simulations he went through before launch did not “capture” what it was really like on the ship.
Reaction by Fans and Friends
As expected, people took to social media to express their wishes and joy for the star after he returned from his mission.
NASA made sure they tweeted that “Bill” will always be their friend:
Author and well-known “Star Trek” expert Mark A. Altman called the trip the best Trek movie made:
One fan suggested that the trip be made part of the official “Star Trek” canon:
The WWE congratulated him for being the “first WWE Hall of Famer” to go to space:
Even the “Star Trek” franchise sent its appreciation to their original leading man: