Billionaire Jeff Bezos gives a thumbs up outside the capsule of Blue Origin's New Shepard mission NS-18, which carried actor William Shatner and 3 other passengers on a suborbital flight, near Van Horn, Texas, the US, October 13 2021. Picture: BLUE ORIGIN/REUTERS
Billionaire Jeff Bezos gives a thumbs up outside the capsule of Blue Origin's New Shepard mission NS-18, which carried actor William Shatner and 3 other passengers on a suborbital flight, near Van Horn, Texas, the US, October 13 2021. Picture: BLUE ORIGIN/REUTERS

Van Horn — Having made a career out of playing an explorer of the cosmos, William Shatner — Capt James Kirk of  Star Trek  fame — did it for real on Wednesday, becoming at age 90 the oldest person in space aboard a spacecraft flown by billionaire Jeff Bezos’s company Blue Origin.

Shatner was one of four passengers in the 10 minute journey  to the edge of space aboard the 18.3m New Shepard spacecraft, which took off from Blue Origin’s launch site about 32km outside the rural west Texas town of Van Horn.

The crew capsule returned to the Texas desert from the suborbital flight under parachutes, raising a cloud of dust. Shatner emerged gingerly from the capsule in the desert, appearing reflective as the others celebrated by cheering and popping champagne bottles.

Bezos was on hand and embraced Shatner, who was wearing a cap and a blue flight suit with the company’s name in white letters on one sleeve.

Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket blasts off, October 13 2021. Picture: BLUE ORIGIN/REUTERS
Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket blasts off, October 13 2021. Picture: BLUE ORIGIN/REUTERS

“What you have given me is the most profound experience I can imagine,” Shatner told Bezos as the two chatted for several minutes. “I am so filled with emotion about what just happened.”

The all-civilian crew experienced a few minutes of weightlessness, having travelled about 106km above the Earth’s surface — higher than the internationally recognised boundary of space known as the Karman Line, about 100km above Earth.

It marked the second space tourism flight for Blue Origin, the company Bezos —  the Amazon.com Inc founder and current executive chair — founded two decades ago. Bezos flew aboard the first one in July.

William Shatner grew emotional while discussing his experience travelling to space on a Blue Origin space flight with Jeff Bezos.

Shatner,  who embodied the promise of space travel in the classic 1960s TV series Star Trek and seven subsequent films — said he had prepared himself for experiencing weightlessness, but was stunned at the dramatic contrast of the beauty of the blue Earth and the blackness of space.

“You're looking into blackness, into black ugliness,” Shatner said. “And you look down, there's the blue down there — and the black up there — and it’s just, there is Mother Earth.”

“This is life and that’s death, and in an instant, you know that’s death,” Shatner said. “That's what I saw.

“Is that the way death is?” Shatner asked.

Before the flight, each astronaut rang a bell and then entered the capsule atop the spaceship, with Bezos closing the hatch.

Joining Shatner were former Nasa engineer Chris Boshuizen, clinical research entrepreneur Glen de Vries and Blue Origin vice -president and engineer Audrey Powers .

Shatner, who turned 90 in March, has been acting since the 1950s and remains busy with entertainment projects and fan conventions.

Shatner’s participation helped generate publicity for Blue Origin as it competes against two billionaire-backed rivals — Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic Holdings —  to attract customers willing to pay large sums to experience space flight.

The flight represented another important day for the nascent space tourism industry that, according to UBS, could reach an annual value of $3bn in a decade.

Blue Origin had a successful debut space tourism flight on July 20, with Bezos and three others aboard on a trip lasting 10 minutes and 10 seconds. On that flight, pioneering female aviator Wally Funk at age 82 became the oldest person to reach space. The previous record was set in 1998 when pioneering astronaut John Glenn returned to space as a 77-year-old US senator.

Branson inaugurated his space tourism service on July 11, riding along on a suborbital flight with six others. SpaceX debuted its space tourism business by flying the first all-civilian crew to reach Earth’s orbit in a three-day mission ending September 18.

In his annual address to world leaders in September, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres criticised “billionaires joyriding to space while millions go hungry on earth”.

Asked about Shatner’s flight, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Wednesday that Guterres “very much continues to believe what he said in the General Assembly”.

Reuters 

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