William Shatner, the 90-year-old countless imaginary space travel veteran who played Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, stormed off for a real Wednesday and became the oldest person to hit the final frontier in a PR bonanza for Jeff Bezos and his rocket company Blue Origin.
Within 10 minutes and 17 seconds, Shatner and three crew members took off on a hydrogen-powered rocket, climbed to the edge of space at an altitude of 65.8 miles, and enjoyed three to four minutes of weightlessness along with spectacular views of Earth before returning crashed to a gentle parachute-assisted touchdown.
Within minutes, Bezos and Blue Origin rescue teams were on hand to open the spacecraft’s hatch and welcome Shatner, Australian entrepreneur Chris Boshuizen, microbiologist Glen de Vries and Blue Origin manager Audrey Powers to Earth.
Shatner carefully climbed a few short steps to the ground and was hugged warmly by Bezos. The actor became emotional and occasionally lost the words that describe the escape to the man who made it possible.
“It was so moving for me,” said Shatner. “This experience is something incredible.”
He said he was overwhelmed and Bezos gave him the most profound experience he can imagine. “I’m so touched by what just happened … it’s extraordinary,” he said to Bezos.
“I hope I never recover from this. I hope that I can keep what I feel now,” he said. “I don’t want to lose it.”
The flight was only the second crewed New Shepard capsule launch since Bezos, his brother Mark, an 82-year-old aviation pioneerand Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen ran away on July 20th
Daemen, then 18, holds the record for the youngest person to fly in space, but Shatner beat Funk’s record by eight years and John Glenn’s previous mark by 13.
“I want to see space, I want to see the earth, I want to see what we have to do to save the earth,” Shatner told CBS Mornings’ Gayle King before the start. “I want to have a perspective that has never been shown to me. That interests me.”
He granted his wish.
Boshuizen and de Vries paid unknown sums for their seats aboard the New Shepard, but Shatner was an invited guest on Blue Origin. Powers, a former NASA air traffic controller and now Vice President of Flight Operations at Blue Origin, flew as the company’s representative.
While the New Shepard rocket and capsule are only capable of suborbital ascent and departure, Shatner and his crew members endured the same launch accelerations that space shuttle astronauts once felt – about three times normal gravity – and even higher “G loads.” “on the descent back to the lower atmosphere.
Even so, Shatner and his crew on board the automated New Shepard were considered passengers, not astronauts. But professional astronauts welcomed them to the brotherhood of space travelers.
“I’m impressed. I mean, he’s 90 years old and shows that someone his age can actually fly into space,” said Matthias Maurer, an astronaut with the European Space Agency who will be leaving for the International Space Station at the end of the month, to CBS News.
“Even if it is, let’s say, only a suborbital flight, I am very impressed and wish him all the best. Hopefully it will be the experience of a lifetime. And yes, I hope that many more people will follow his steps and also experience space. “
Kayla Barron, a Navy submarine flying to the station with Maurer and two others aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, added, “It’s really great! Who wouldn’t want William Shatner to fly in space? I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t. “
“We all benefit from watching these new companies with different missions, different equipment and different architectures as they think about getting more people into human spaceflight,” she said. “So we’re really excited to see this flight.”
Blue Origin’s 18th New Shepard flight started a few minutes behind schedule when the BE-3 engine powering the company’s 53-foot booster ignited with a roar, throttled to as much as 110,000 pounds of thrust, and took off One lifted off to the west of the company was Texas launch site near Van Horn.
The booster climbed straight up and accelerated rapidly as it was using fuel and losing weight, reaching a speed of about 2,200 mph and an altitude of about 170,000 feet before the engine was shut off.
The New Shepard capsule then separated from the booster at an altitude of about 45 miles, and both continued to climb on ballistic trajectories and slow down quickly.
The onset of weightlessness began shortly after the separation. All four passengers were able to unbuckle their seatbelts and float around as the capsule reached the top of its trajectory and bent back to earth for the long fall.
The New Shepard capsule features some of the largest windows in any spacecraft currently flying, allowing Shatner, de Vries, Boshuizen, and Powers hemispheric views of the earth far below.
“Yeah, you know, weightless, my stomach went up, ah, that’s so strange, but not as strange as the blue shell,” said Shatner. “I never expected that.”
“It’s one thing to say, oh, heaven, and (he) is fragile, it’s all true. But what … is unknown until you do it is this pure, soft blue. Look at the beauty of this Color on! And it’s so thin, and you’ll have it through in no time. ”
As they plunged into the dense lower atmosphere, passengers, back in their padded, reclining seats, were momentarily exposed to more than five times normal gravity before three large parachutes extended and inflated, slowing the vehicle to about 25 miles per hour.
A moment before touchdown, pneumatic thrusters were programmed to fire and slow the ship to only about 2 miles per hour for landing.
A few minutes earlier, the New Shepard booster flew back for a pinpoint landing a few miles away, reignited its BE-3 engine, deployed four landing legs, and landed on a concrete landing pad. If no problems are found, the missile will be overhauled and prepared for another flight.