On October 13, 2021, history was made as sci-fi melded with science fact when actor William Shatner became the oldest person to ever go into space onboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital launch vehicle.
At 90 years young, Shatner is, of course, best known for portraying Captain James T. Kirk, in the original Star Trek and the first seven Star Trek films. The resusable suborbital system was conceived by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos as a means of commencing space tourism. Bezos invited Shatner to become an astronaut/passenger for the New Shepard’s second crewed voyage, which included three other astronauts/passengers.
Obviously Star Trek and sci-fi fans were excited by the news as finally William Shatner would be able to in a sense emulate the sci-fi legend, who voyaged through space as he commanded the starship Enterprise. Needless to say, what Shatner accomplished paled to Kirk’s feats. After all, the actor simply took a suborbital flight while Kirk traversed the galaxy as if it was nothing. Yet Kirk appreciated the situation he was in, to explore and witness what few or none have before. Now, Shatner, too, was able to have as what he said was “the most profound experience I can imagine.”
Originally the flight was to take place on October 12, but was delayed due to weather. During pre-takeoff, it was clear that William Shatner was nervous about his flight and made no secret about his ambivalence. Still, he went through with the flight and was taken aback by the experience.
The New Shepard launched from Blue Origin’s launch site in West Texas at 10:49 a.m. in a short suborbital trajectory that was similar to astronaut Alan Shepard’s first suborbital flight in 1961. The capsule that Shatner and the other three astronauts were in only remained in suborbit for about 11 minutes before it descended back to Earth. Still, that so-brief voyage left a grand impression upon Shatner and his companions.
Once he landed and was greeted by Bezos, William Shatner gave a moving and visceral description of his journey and how it deeply moved him. “I hope I can never recover from this. I hope that I can maintain what I feel now. I don’t want to lose it.” Shatner confessed as he recounted his short voyage 65 miles above the planet.
Some will argue that the event was a publicity stunt for the very rich and that the cost of the flight could have been better used down at Earth. But these trips illustrate the potential of space toursim and open it up to everyday people who are not scientists or engineers. William Shatner’s journey to where few have gone before was truly inspiring and an excellent way to boost space tourism. He pointed out that observing Earth from afar made him appreciate how fragile and beautiful our world is and how it should be cherished. He also added that everyone should experience to see Earth in a new way. Many other space voyagers described a similar feeling and how it made them protective of our planet. Perhaps if more people experienced what the very few have then it could inspire them to take measures to protect Earth.
Eventually, space tourism will become more affordable and attainable for many people to the point that it can become as routine as taking a flight on an airplane. Shatner’s experience and the way he eloquently described it are excellent ways to promote space tourism and inspire countless others.
So, what next? Will Patrick Stewart be invited for a future flight or antoher Star Trek actor? How about Mark Hamill, Sigourney Weaver, or any other prominent sci-fi actor? How about prominent sci-fi visionaries, such as George Lucas or James Cameron? It’s easy to imagine Cameron staying in orbit to film his next sci-fi blockbuster. They could, as Shatner demonstrated, be the best ambassadors to motivate others and who knows? Space tourism could soon become commonplace. Anyway, no matter what, it was a blast to see a small measure of science fiction becoming reality as we can now envision what it is like for Captain Kirk to be in space as the actor who helped create the character took that next step into the final frontier.