Star Trek actor William Shatner is set to boldly go where no 90-year-old has gone before when he blasts off to space on Blue Origin’s second crewed mission.
The Canadian – who will forever be known to the sci-fi show’s legion of Trekkies as Captain James Tiberius Kirk – will launch from the company’s West Texas base at 9 am (1 am AEDT), after a day’s delay due to high winds.
He will be joined on the New Shepard rocket by Blue Origin executive Audrey Powers, Planet Labs co-founder Chris Boshuizen, and Glen De Vries, a co-founder of clinical research platform Medidata Solutions.
The crew’s roughly 11-minute hop beyond the Karman Line – 100 kilometers into the air, just beyond Earth’s atmosphere – and back down again with a parachute landing in the desert is a replay of Blue’s maiden human flight in July.
That trip, which included company owner Jeff Bezos of Amazon, was a breakthrough moment for the nascent space tourism sector. This time around, nearly all attention will be focused on Shatner, who at 90 will become the oldest-ever astronaut, despite an appearance that suggests a man who could be decades younger.
The intergalactic voyages of the Star Trek Enterprise ship, commanded by Captain Kirk, helped turn American attention to the stars as the US space program was in its infancy.
“Captain Kirk… represents ‘the final frontier’ perhaps more than anyone else for a couple different generations of people, in the US and worldwide,” screenwriter and Star Trek historian Marc Cushman said.
Shatner, who’s also known for his roles as lawyer Denny Crane in Boston Legal, among many others, has spoken in the past about having a difficult relationship with Star Trek and its fan culture.
But in recent years, the actor has leaned into the fame brought about by his most famous role. “It looks like there’s a great deal of curiosity in this fictional character, Captain Kirk,” he said in a video released by Blue Origin. “Let’s go along with it and enjoy the ride.”
For Blue Origin, meanwhile, a second mission in less than three months represents another step forward as it tries to establish itself as space tourism’s leading player. Boshuizen and Vries will bring the company’s total number of paying customers to three – though prices haven’t been disclosed.
Virgin Galactic, which offers a similar experience of a few minutes’ weightlessness and a view of the Earth’s curvature from the cosmos, launched its founder Richard Branson in July, a few days before Bezos.
And in September, SpaceX sent four private citizens on a three-day trip whizzing around the planet – an altogether more ambitious but likely far more expensive endeavor.
“We’re just at the beginning – but how miraculous that beginning is, how extraordinary it is to be part of that beginning,” said Shatner in his video message. Shatner’s voyage is a fitting coda for a pop culture phenomenon that inspired generations of astronauts, scientists, and engineers for many space enthusiasts.