Famed Star Trek actor William Shatner and a crew of three fellow travelers successfully flew to the edge of space and back this morning on Blue Origin’s New Shepard tourist rocket. The foursome took off from Blue Origin’s launch facility in Van Horn, Texas at 9:50 a.m. ET, ascended to an altitude of approximately 66 miles, and then landed safely back on Earth.
In addition to Shatner, two paying customers and a Blue Origin employee flew today. These included Chris Boshuizen, co-founder of the small satellite company Planet Labs, and Glen de Vries, co-founder of Medidata, a software company. Audrey Powers, Vice President of Mission and Flight Operations at Blue Origin, represented the company on the flight.
After Shatner landed, he shed tears, emotionally, over what had just happened. “What you’ve given me is the most profound experience,” Shatner told Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos after the actor landed. “I’m so touched by what just happened. Just me, it’s extraordinary, extraordinary. I hope I never recover. ”Shatner then argued that everyone needs to see what they saw, and even compare the experience of transition from blue skies to the darkness of space to how dying might feel. “Is that death?” he asked.
This morning’s flight, which lasts just over 10 minutes, marks the second successful crew launch for Blue Origin on the New Shepard rocket. The crewed company was first launched on July 20 by Bezos, the former CEO of Amazon. He flew with his brother, Mark, a Dutch teenager, and the legendary aviator Wally Funk. When Funk flew she became the oldest person in space at 82, but this morning she surpassed 90-year-old Shatner.
New Shepard is currently the company’s primary missile. The vehicle is suborbital and therefore cannot reach enough speed to enter orbit around the earth. Instead, it is able to send crews to the edge of space and back so the drivers can experience zero gravity for a few minutes. To get into space, the crews start in a crew capsule that sits on top of the rocket. Once high above the earth, the capsule and rocket separate and the passengers briefly float through the cabin. Then both parts of the vehicle fall back to earth; the capsule lands under parachutes while the rocket reignites its engine and lands upright.
Although Shatner’s flight was ultimately a success, it takes place in the midst of a tumultuous time for Blue Origin. Shortly before the mission, 21 current and former employees published a scathing essay criticizing Blue Origin’s culture as sexist and unsafe. One recently Washington Post The investigation also found that employees believe that Blue Origin has “an authoritarian brother culture.”