WATCH | William Shatner breaks down in tears after space flight
Having made a career out of playing an explorer of the cosmos, William Shatner — Capt James T. Kirk of Star Trek fame — did it for real on Wednesday, becoming at age 90 the oldest person in space, aboard a rocket ship flown by billionaire Jeff Bezos's company Blue Origin, an experience the actor called profound.
Shatner was one of four passengers to journey for 10 minutes and 17 seconds to the edge of space aboard the white, fully autonomous 18.3m-tall 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 silence, 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.
“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 Kármán 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 chairperson — founded two decades ago. Bezos flew aboard the first one in July.
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 — whoa, that's death. 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 rocket ship, with Bezos closing the hatch. Winds were light and skies were clear for the launch, conducted after two delays totalling about 45 minutes.