Reality caught up with science fiction today when Star Trek actor William Shatner, aka Captain James T. Kirk, briefly aboard the outer space blue origin New Shepard Suborbital Spaceship.
In the process, 90-year-old Shatner took the title of oldest human in space, less than three months after aviation pioneer Wally Funk, 82, set that record on Blue Origin’s first crewed flight.
“How about that, guys?” During the descent Shatner can be heard saying this. “It was unlike anything he had ever described. … He was unlike anything you could ever feel.”
Today’s mission to Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas was the 18th for the New Shepard breed of spaceship, including 16 uncrewed flights over the past six years. It’s a bright day for Jeff Bezos’s Kent, Wash.-based space venture, which is approaching challenges and controversies.
The flight followed the pattern set by the July milestone mission, which saw Funk, Bezos, their brother Mark and Dutch student Oliver Damon cross a 100-kilometre (62-mile) space boundary known as the Karman Line. Is.
Today, Shatner is joined by three other astronauts: Chris Boshuizen, a venture capitalist who co-founded Planet Labs; Glen de Vries, co-founder of Medidata Solutions, now an executive at Dassault Systems; and Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s vice president of New Shepard mission and flight operations.
Boshuizen and de Vries paid an undisclosed fare for their trip, while Shatner and Powers flew on behalf of Blue Origin.
Before heading to the launch pad, Blue Origin crew trainer Sarah Knights presented the quartet with commemorative coins. “Heads we go, tails we don’t,” joked Shatner.
No coin was flipped: instead, the astronauts were escorted out to the pad in a Rivian truck, with a uniformed Bezos acting as their driver. They climbed seven flights of stairs to the launch tower and then clasped themselves in their seats under the guidance of the Knights. Bezos himself closed the hatch.
After a series of countdown holds, the hydrogen-fueled New Shepard booster lifted off at 9:50 a.m. CT (7:50 a.m. PT), raising the crew capsule to a maximum altitude of over 351,000 feet (107 kilometers, or more). pushed towards. 66.5 miles) before the two elements of the spacecraft went their separate ways. Shatner and the others had a few minutes to get out of their seats, swim in zero-G, and watch Earth swirling through the capsule’s picture windows.
While the booster flew away from the launch pad to an autonomous touchdown on a landing pad, the four astronauts returned to their seats in the Texas desert for a parachute-assisted descent. The journey took about 10 minutes.
Due to his long-standing status as a space-show celebrity, Shatner was the star of today’s mission. He was starship captain in the original “Star Trek” series in 1966–1969, when his three shipyards were born, and played roles in Star Trek films as well as non-spec films and TV series.
He has also served as a pitchman for train, and at times, Shatner seemed as though he was playing that role in an uncanny capacity for Bezos and his space vision. “Jeff Bezos’ concept to live and build in space, and to make pollution a thing of the past – what great ambitions are those, and someone has to start it,” he said in a statement. Pre-launch video released by Blue Origin.
So far, New Shepard appears to be the most successful element of Blue Origin’s multi-dimensional space program. After the first crewed mission of July, Bezos said his 21-year-old space venture had raised about $100 million in private sales for future suborbital spaceflights. The next crewed flight is expected later this year or early next year, and there will be missions without research as well.
Blue Origin has faced setbacks on other fronts, including delays in its development. Next Generation BE-4 Rocket Engine and its orbital-class New Glenn rocket. This spring, it lost to SpaceX in a multi-billion dollar competition to build the first lunar lander to carry astronauts for NASA’s Artemis moon program. A decision on Blue Origin’s legal challenge is expected next month.
There have also been signs of internal strife: Last month, an essay attributed to 21 current and former Blue Origin employees accused the company of sexual harassment and laxity on flight safety.
According to the essay, most authors “won’t fly on a Blue Origin vehicle” due to safety concerns. Perhaps in response to the essay, today’s Blue Origin webcast made a point of emphasizing the security of the New Shepard system.
“There are a lot of people in Blue who would be excited to fly on New Shepard, and I’m happy to count myself as one of them. It’s a fantastic system. It’s a very robust system,” Andrew Lake, senior director of New Shepard security and mission assurance, said in a pre-recorded interview.
“Well, I hope we get to go one day,” replied Ariane Cornell, who doubles as a launch commentator as well as Blue Origin’s astronaut and director of orbital sales.