The Star Trek actor William Shatner declared himself “overwhelmed” at becoming the oldest human in space, at the age of 90, during a brief but successful second crewed flight on Wednesday of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ship from the west Texas desert.
The Canadian, who for four decades played Captain James Kirk, the fearless commander of the USS Enterprise, broke down in tears at the landing site as he described to the private space company’s founder, the Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos, the profundity of his almost 11-minute leap to the stars.
“I hope I never recover from this,” Shatner said following his touchdown in the company of three civilian crew mates.
“I’m so filled with emotion about what just happened. It’s extraordinary, extraordinary. It’s so much larger than me and life. It hasn’t got anything to do with the little green men and the blue orb. It has to do with the enormity and the quickness and the suddenness of life and death.
“To see the blue colour whip by you, and now you’re staring into blackness … everybody in the world needs to do this. Everybody in the world needs to see this.”
In a tweet Shatner programmed to post during his flight, he likened himself previously as “a boy playing on the seashore … whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me”.
Mr Bezos, who has sold $100 million in tickets for future rides and aims to dominate the fledgling space tourism industry, acted as chauffeur for Shatner and his colleagues on this morning’s short drive from Blue Origin’s crew headquarters to the launchpad in Van Horn. Blue Origin did not divulge its ticket prices for Wednesday’s flight. Shatner was invited to ride for free.
The 57-year-old billionaire Mr Bezos, who was aboard the maiden crewed flight of his own spaceship in July, posed at the launch site for photographs and closed the hatch after the crew entered the capsule about an hour before the 9.49am CT (3.49pm Irish time) blast-off into the clear blue Texas sky.
“I guess that’s it, huh?” Shatner said, realising he was about to experience real-life space travel after decades of fictional intergalactic voyaging.
Mr Bezos, who used to pretend to be Captain Kirk when playing with his siblings as children, was also the first to greet the crew after their return, reopening the hatch and dipping his head into the capsule with the greeting: “Hello astronauts. Welcome to Earth.”
Blue Origin workers followed up by dousing the crew with champagne once they had emerged.
Wednesday’s flight, named Mission NS-18, the 18th flight overall for the capsule named for Alan Shepard, the first American in space in 1961, was pushed back a day from Tuesday because of strong winds, and further delayed from its scheduled time of 8.30am by unspecified rocket issues.
Shatner captured the mantle of oldest space traveller from Wally Funk, an 82-year-old former test pilot who flew with Bezos. “Together we’ll cross new boundaries and set new records. Godspeed,” said Funk, who trained as a Nasa astronaut in the 1960s but never flew, in a pre-flight message read to the crew.
“This is a pinch-me moment for all of us to see Capt James Tiberius Kirk go to space,” Blue Origin launch commentator Jacki Cortese said before liftoff. She said she, like so many others, was drawn to the space business by shows like Star Trek.
Jeff Bezos’s brother Mark, a third member of the July crew, was more succinct. “You lucky bastards,” he said.
The US space agency Nasa also tweeted a good luck message to Shatner. “We wish you all the best on your flight to space. You are, and always shall be, our friend,” it said. – Guardian