VAN HORN, Texas – Hollywood Captain Kirk William Shatner, 90, exploded into space Wednesday in a convergence of science fiction and science reality, reaching the Last Frontier aboard a ship built by the Blue Origin company of Jeff Bezos.
The “Star Trek” hero and three other passengers descended about 66 miles (106 kilometers) over the West Texas desert in the fully automated capsule, and then were safely parachuted to Earth on a flight which lasted just over 10 minutes.
“You did something,” an elated Shatner said to Bezos as he exited the capsule, the words pouring out of him in a torrent. “What you have given me is the most profound experience.” He added: “I hope I never get over it.”
He said that going from the blue sky to the blackness of space was a moving experience that made him wonder, “Is this the way death is?” “
Shatner has become the oldest person in space, eclipsing the previous record – set by a passenger on a similar jaunt on a Bezos spacecraft in July – of eight years. The flight included about three minutes of weightlessness and a view of the curvature of the Earth.
Sci-fi fans reveled in the opportunity to see the man best known as Captain James T. Kirk of the Enterprise spaceship boldly go where no American television star has gone before.
“It’s a pinching moment for all of us to see Captain James Tiberius Kirk go into space,” said Jacki Cortese, Blue Origin launch commentator, before take off. She said that she, like so many others, was drawn to the space sector by shows like “Star Trek”.
Bezos is a huge “Star Trek” fan – the Amazon founder made an appearance as an alien in one of the last “Star Trek” films – and Shatner rode for free as a guest.
The takeoff brought invaluable star power to Bezos’ spaceship company, given its appeal to baby boomers, celebrity watchers, and space enthusiasts. Shatner starred in the original “Star Trek” television from 1966 to 1969, when the United States was running for the moon, and then appeared in a series of “Star Trek” films.
Bezos himself led the four to the pad, accompanied them to the above-ground platform, and closed the hatch after they boarded the 60-foot rocket. A jubilant Bezos was there to greet them when the capsule returned to Earth under its shining blue and red parachutes.
“Hello, astronauts. Welcome to Earth! “Bezos said, opening the hatch and being kissed by Shatner. The capsule, New Shepard, was named after the first American in space, Alan Shepard.
The flight comes as the space tourism industry finally takes off, with passengers traveling aboard ships built and operated by some of the richest men in the world.
Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson led the way by traveling to space in his own rocket in July, followed by Bezos nine days later on Blue Origin’s first flight with a crew. Elon Musk’s SpaceX made its first private trip in mid-September, but without Musk on board.
Last week, the Russians sent an actor and a director to the International Space Station for a filmmaking project.
“We are only at the beginning, but how miraculous this start is. How amazing to be a part of this debut, ”Shatner said in a Blue Origin video posted the day before his flight.
Shatner joined Audrey Powers, vice president of Blue Origin and former space station flight controller for NASA, and two paying clients: Chris Boshuizen, a former NASA engineer who co-founded a satellite company, and Glen de Vries from a 3D software company. . Blue Origin would not disclose the cost of its tickets.
Blue Origin said Shatner and the rest of the crew met all medical and physical requirements, including the ability to climb and descend several flights of stairs to the launch tower. Passengers are subjected to nearly 6 G, or six times the force of Earth’s gravity, when the capsule returns to Earth.
Shatner shooting in space is “the craziest thing I think I’ve ever seen,” said Joseph Barra, a bartender who came from Los Angeles to help organize the Blue Origin launch week festivities. “William Shatner is setting the bar high for what a 90 year old man can do.”
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Dunn reported from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Associated Press video reporter Cody Jackson contributed to this story.