William Shatner, the star Trek actor and creator of Star Trek, will bravely venture into space on Wednesday morning. Shatner is best-known for his role as Captain James T. Kirk on the USS Enterprise. He will fly with three other passengers aboard Blue Origins New Shepard rocket from West Texas to go to space.
Today's flight marks the second crewed flight of the New Shepard. This reusable passenger rocket was developed by Blue Origin to transport paying customers to outer space for a brief moment of weightlessness. Blue Origins founder and former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was on the company's July 1 crewed flight. He is currently the second-richest man in the world.
Boldly going where no one has gone before
Today's crew is diverse. Two paying customers will be flying alongside Shatner: Chris Boshuizen (a former NASA engineer, cofounder of small satellite company Planet Labs), and Glen de Vries (cofounder of software company Medidata, vice chair of life sciences, at French software company Dassault Systmes). Last week, Shatner was joined by Audrey Powers, Blue Origin's vice president of mission operations and flight operations.
The flight of foursomes will take approximately 11 minutes. New Shepard, a suborbital rocket means it can't lap the Earth at the insane speed required. The rocket will instead launch straight from Blue Origins' Van Horn, Texas launch site. The rocket will reach an altitude of 62 miles (100 km) in just minutes and cross the boundary into space. The capsule is lifted to the top of the Earth and separated from the rocket. Passenger inside has a few moments to look out through the tall windows at Earth below.
Shatner's flight is just weeks after his new spoken-word album, Bill. This includes a song featuring Brad Paisley, So Far From The Moon. It revolves around Shatners experience at the Apollo 11 lunar landings in 1969. Shatner, who is 90 years old will be the oldest person to go to space. Hell defeated Wally Funk, the legendary aviator who flew on Bezos' first crewed New Shepard flight. Funk, now 82, is part of a group that included 13 women who were tested in 1960s to determine whether they would be able to fly for NASA. However, NASA ultimately refused to allow Funk to go into space.
In the space mission, Shatner will become the second actor to fly in the next two weeks. Russian actress Yulia Pesild just flew to space on a Russian Soyuz rocket to film scenes in space in preparation for her upcoming movie, The Challenge.
I would like to push my nose against the glass.
Shatner spoke last week to CNN's Anderson Cooper in a lighthearted interview about his upcoming trip. Shatner stated that he wants to put his nose against the glass. What I don't want to see is someone else looking back at me. We don't want that.
The conversation eventually devolved into laughter, with Cooper and Cooper making inappropriate jokes about the New Shepard rocket's shape. Cooper stated that while some people laughed at the rocket's appearance, he thinks it is cool. It's a great idea. It would be fun to think of a weightless thing.
Shatner replied, "No, it's not funny." We were disseminating space program.
The New Shepard flight (NS-18) comes just two weeks after 21 Blue Origin employees published an explosive essay in Lioness. This essay criticized the company for creating a sexist, unsafe work environment. Blue Origins culture, according to our experiences, sits on a foundation which ignores the plights of the planet, turns a blindeye to sexism and is not adequately attuned for safety concerns. It silences those who seek justice. The Washington Post published a critique of Blue Origin this weekend. Employees described it as an authoritarian bro culture.
Aspirational Federation is so different today, Shatner's presence serves to remind us.
Alexandra Abrams (ex-Blue Origin employee) expressed concern about the Shatner flight. I hope that the NS-18 crew will fly a nominal flight this week. Star Trek was my favorite show growing up. I can still remember Jeff Bezos touring Shatner at Blue in Kent in 2019. Abrams, the former head of employee communications at Blue Origin, stated in a statement to The Verge. Shatner's presence is a reminder to me of how different we are from the Federation I aspire to be, and will continue being if nothing changes. Star Trek is about sharing humanity and evolution as a species. I worry that we are becoming the Ferengi in our own stories.
Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket flight has been a success, despite the safety concerns mentioned in the essay. Blue Origin had previously successfully launched and landed New Shepard 14 times before its first crewed launch. It also had three other vehicles. Bezos, Funk and a second crewed flight with Blue Origin were successful. A subsequent uncrewed flight sent 18 commercial payloads to space.
Blue Origins' launch facility in Van Horn (Texas) is the location for takeoff. The company will stream live coverage of the flight starting 90 minutes prior to takeoff.