William Shatner, the 90-year-old veteran of countless imaginary space voyages playing Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, blasted off for real Wednesday, becoming the oldest person to reach the final frontier in a PR bonanza for Jeff Bezos and his rocket company Blue Origin.
Over the course of 10 minutes and 17 seconds, Shatner and three crewmates took off atop a hydrogen-fueled rocket, climbed to edge of space 65.8 miles up and enjoyed three to four minutes of weightlessness, along with spectacular views of Earth, before plunging back to a gentle parachute-assisted touchdown.
Within minutes, Bezos and Blue Origin recovery crews were on the scene to open the spacecraft’s hatch and welcome Shatner, Australian entrepreneur Chris Boshuizen, microbiologist Glen de Vries and Blue Origin executive Audrey Powers back to Earth.
Shatner cautiously made his way down a few short steps to the ground and was warmly embraced by Bezos. The actor grew emotional and was occasionally at a loss for words describing the flight to the man who made it possible.
“It was so moving to me,” Shatner said. “This experience is something unbelievable.”
He said he was overwhelmed, and that Bezos has given him the most profound experience he can imagine. “I’m so filled with emotion about what just happened … it’s extraordinary,” he told Bezos.
“I hope I never recover from this. I hope that I can maintain what I feel now,” he said. “I don’t want to lose it.”
Video released after the flight showed Shatner and his crewmates floating about the cabin as the spacecraft reached space, all of them focused on the view outside as they unstrapped and moved about without worrying about up and down. Shatner appeared mesmerized, quietly gazing out at the black of space and the brilliant planet 65 miles below.
“Holy cow,” Powers marveled.
Speaking with reporters at the base of their booster after the flight, de Vries said flying with Captain Kirk was “the ultimate manifestation of science fiction becoming science. But we went to space with our friend Bill.”
“Scared little Billy, frightened Bill,” Shatner joked. “I’m so glad you said that. Captain Kirk is a fictional figure. I’m flesh and blood.”
Said Boshuizen: “I can’t think of a better ambassador for the future of humanity than his character James T. Kirk on Star Trek and that amazing future. So to fly with a true ambassador for what we can become on this planet, I think it’s fantastic.”
The flight marked only the second crewed launch of a New Shepard capsule since Bezos, his brother Mark, 82-year-old aviation pioneerand Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen took off July 20 on
Daemen, then 18, holds the record for youngest person to fly in space, but Shatner eclipsed Funk’s record by eight years and John Glenn’s mark before that by 13.
“I want to see space, I want to see the Earth, I want to see what we need to do to save Earth,” Shatner told CBS Mornings’ Gayle King before launch. “I want to have a perspective that hasn’t been shown to me before. That’s what I’m interested in seeing.”
He got his wish.
Boshuizen and de Vries paid undisclosed sums for their seats aboard the New Shepard, but Shatner was an invited guest of Blue Origin. Powers, a former NASA flight controller now Blue Origin vice president of flight operations, flew as a company representative.
While the New Shepard rocket and capsule are only capable of up-and-down sub-orbital flights, Shatner and his crewmates endured the same liftoff accelerations space shuttle astronauts once felt — about three times the normal force of gravity — and even higher “G loads” during descent back into the lower atmosphere.
Even so, Shatner and his crewmates were considered passengers, not astronauts, aboard the automated New Shepard. But professional astronauts nonetheless welcomed them to the brotherhood of space travelers.
“I’m impressed. I mean, he’s 90 years old and showing that somebody at his age can actually fly to space,” Matthias Maurer, a European Space Agency astronaut launching to the International Space Station at the end of the month, told CBS News.
“Even if it’s, let’s say, just a suborbital flight, I’m highly impressed, and I wish him all the best. Hopefully it will be the experience of a lifetime. And yeah, I hope many more people will follow his steps and also experience space.”
Added Kayla Barron, a Navy submariner who’s flying to the station with Maurer and two others aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule: “It’s really awesome! Like who wouldn’t want to see William Shatner fly in space? Like, I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t.”
“For us watching these new companies with different missions, different equipment, different architectures for how they think about bringing more human beings into human spaceflight is just a win for all of us,” she said. “So we’re really excited to watch that flight, for sure.”
Blue Origin’s 18th New Shepard flight began a few minutes behind schedule when the BE-3 engine powering the company’s 53-foot-tall booster ignited with a roar, throttled up to 110,000 pounds of thrust and lifted off from Launch Site One at the company’s West Texas launch site near Van Horn.
Climbing straight up, the booster quickly accelerated as it consumed propellant and lost weight, reaching a velocity of about 2,200 mph and an altitude of some 170,000 feet before engine shutdown.
The New Shepard capsule then separated from the booster at an altitude of about 45 miles and both continued climbing upward on ballistic trajectories, rapidly slowing.
The onset of weightlessness began moments after separation. All four passengers were free to unstrap and float about as the capsule reached the top of its trajectory and arced over for the long fall back to Earth.
The New Shepard capsule is equipped with some of the largest windows in a currently flying spacecraft, giving Shatner, de Vries, Boshuizen and Powers hemispheric views of Earth far below.
“Yeah, you know, weightless, my stomach went up, ah, this is so weird, but not as weird as the covering of blue,” said Shatner. “This is what I never expected.”
“It’s one thing to say, oh, the sky, and (it’s) fragile, it’s all true. But what … is unknown until you do it, is there’s this pure, soft blue. Look at the beauty of that color! And it’s so thin, and you’re through it in an instant.”
Plunging back into the dense lower atmosphere, the passengers, back in their padded, reclining seats, were briefly subjected to more than five times the normal force of gravity before three large parachutes deployed and inflated, slowing the craft to about 15 mph.
An instant before touchdown, compressed-air thrusters were programmed to fire, slowing the ship to just 2 mph or so for landing.
A few minutes earlier, the New Shepard booster flew itself back to a pinpoint landing a few miles away, reigniting its BE-3 engine, deploying four landing legs and settling to a concrete landing pad. Assuming no problems are found, the rocket will be refurbished and prepared for another flight.