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From ‘Star Trek’ to space trek: Shatner poised for Blue Origin cosmic jaunt

13 October 2021 - 14:44 By Mike Blake
William Shatner is set to travel to space aboard Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin flight. File photo.
William Shatner is set to travel to space aboard Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin flight. File photo.
Image: Tommaso Boddi/WireImage

Billionaire US businessman Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin is set for its second suborbital tourism flight on Wednesday, with actor William Shatner — who embodied the promise of space travel in the Star Trek  TV series and films — among the four-person, all-civilian crew poised to blast off from Texas.

Shatner, at age 90, is due to become the oldest person ever in space. He and his crewmates are scheduled for a 9am take-off aboard the 18.3m-tall, fully autonomous New Shepard spacecraft at Blue Origin’s launch site about 32km outside the rural west Texas town of Van Horn.

Joining Shatner for what is expected to be a roughly 10-minute journey are former Nasa engineer Chris Boshuizen, clinical research entrepreneur Glen de Vries and Blue Origin vice-president and engineer Audrey Powers.

New Shepard is expected to carry the passengers more than 96km above Earth, allowing them to experience a few minutes of weightlessness before the crew capsule returns to the Texas desert under parachutes. The flight, previously scheduled for Tuesday, was pushed back a day for wind-related reasons.

The four crew members went through training on Tuesday and the mission team completed a flight-readiness evaluation to ensure “all systems are go for launch”, Blue Origin said on Twitter.

Blue Origin had a successful debut space tourism flight on July 20, with Bezos and three others aboard, flying to the edge of space and back on a trip lasting 10 minutes and 10 seconds. On that flight, pioneering female aviator Wally Funk at age 82 became the oldest person to reach space.

Bezos, the Amazon.com founder and current executive chairperson, formed Blue Origin two decades ago.

Shatner, who turned 90 in March, has been acting since the 1950s and remains busy with entertainment projects and fan conventions. He is best known for starring as Captain James T Kirk of the Starship Enterprise in the classic 1960s TV series Star Trek and seven subsequent films about fictional adventures in outer space.

As an actor, Shatner was synonymous with space voyages. During the opening credits of each episode of the series, he called space “the final frontier” and promised “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no man has gone before”.

Credit: Reuters

Shatner said there is both irony and symmetry to his space trip, having played a space explorer for decades and finally becoming one.

“This is no piece of cake,” Shatner told CBS Mornings.

“I want to see space. I want to see Earth. I want to see what we need to do to save Earth. I want to have a perspective that hasn’t been shown to me before,” Shatner said.

His participation in the flight has helped generate publicity for Blue Origin as it competes against two billionaire-backed rivals — Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Holdings — to attract customers willing to pay large sums to experience space flight.

Branson inaugurated his space tourism service on July 11, riding on a suborbital flight with six others aboard his company’s VSS Unity rocket plane.

SpaceX, which has launched many astronauts and cargo payloads to the International Space Station for Nasa, debuted its space tourism business by flying the first all-civilian crew to reach Earth’s orbit in a three-day mission ending on September 18.

The US Federal Aviation Administration two weeks ago said it will review safety concerns raised by former and current Blue Origin employees who have accused the company of prioritising speed and cost savings over quality control and adequate staffing.