AFP/ Launch Site One, US
Star Trek actor William Shatner finally became a real space traveller on Blue Origin’s second crewed mission on Wednesday, calling it the most profound experience of his life.
“It was unbelievable,” said the 90-year-old Canadian, known to the sci-fi show’s legion of “Trekkies” as the daring Captain James Tiberius Kirk, a role he first played more than half a century ago.
He was joined on the 11-minute journey beyond Earth’s atmosphere and back again by three others: Blue Origin executive Audrey Powers, Planet Labs co-founder Chris Boshuizen, and Glen de Vries of Medidata Solutions.
A New Shepard rocket took off from the company’s West Texas base around 9.49am (1449 GMT) after experiencing two brief delays, eventually soaring to 66 miles (106km) above sea level.
Founder Jeff Bezos was on hand to greet the crew members as they climbed out of the capsule, which parachute-landed in desert, and were showered with applause and champagne.
Like the almost 600 astronauts who have gone before him, Shatner marvelled at the experience of weightlessness and the stunning view of our world from space.
“What you have given me is the most profound experience I can imagine. I’m so filled with emotion about what just happened,” he said, moved to tears.
“What you’re looking down on is Mother Earth, and it needs protecting,” he later told reporters.
The mission was a replay of the company’s maiden human flight in July, which included Bezos and was seen as a breakthrough moment for the nascent space tourism sector.
This time around, attention was on Shatner, who became the oldest-ever astronaut, despite an appearance suggesting a man decades younger.
The intergalactic voyages of the USS Enterprise, commanded by Shatner’s character Kirk, helped turn American attention to the stars as the US space programme was starting out.
“Captain Kirk ... represents ‘the final frontier’ perhaps more than anyone else for a couple different generations of people, in the US and worldwide,” screenwriter and Trek historian Marc Cushman told AFP.
Shatner, also known for his role as lawyer Denny Crane in Boston Legal, among many others, has spoken in the past about an at-times difficult relationship with Star Trek and its fan culture.
But in recent years, the actor has leaned into the fame brought about by his most famous role.
For many space enthusiasts, Shatner’s voyage was a fitting coda for a pop culture phenomenon that inspired generations of astronauts, scientists and engineers.
The show has had a long-running association with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), whose scientists were sent early scripts to vet their accuracy, according to Cushman.
“Those scientists, as well as nearly everyone at those space agencies, were avid Star Trek watchers, and they well understood that the popularity of the series helped spark growing interest and funding for the space programme,” he said.
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