December 4, 2021

Blue Origin says ‘Star Trek’ actor William Shatner will fly to space next week


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Actor William Shatner. Credit: NASA

Blue Origin confirmed Monday that actor William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk on “Star Trek,” will fly into space on a suborbital launch Oct. 12 from West Texas.

The announcement Monday followed a report last month by TMZ that sci-fi actor will fly to space on a Blue Origin launch.

“Yes, it’s true,” Shatner tweeted Monday. “I’m going to be a ‘rocket man!'”

Shatner will fly on the second launch of Blue Origin’s New Shepard booster with human passengers — and the 18th New Shepard launch overall — following a first crewed mission in July. On that flight, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, aviation pioneer Wally Funk and Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen rocketed to an altitude of 66 miles (107 kilometers), just above the internationally-recognized boundary of space.

Funk, 82, became the oldest person to fly to space on the July 20 launch. Shatner, 90, will break that record.

“I’ve heard about space for a long time now. I’m taking the opportunity to see it for myself. What a miracle,” Shatner said in a statement.

Shatner will join three others on the New Shepard rocket. Blue Origin announced the first two passengers last week, and the company said Monday one of its executives, Audrey Powers, will also strap in for the ride to space next week.

Powers, an engineer and a lawyer, is Blue Origin’s vice president of mission and flight operations. She served as an International Space Station flight controller for NASA before joining Blue Origin in 2013.

“As an engineer and lawyer with more than two decades of experience in the aerospace industry, I have great confidence in our New Shepard team and the vehicle we’ve developed,” Powers said.

The flight Oct. 12 is Blue Origin’s first since 21 current and former employees released an open letter alleging sexism and a culture of stifling dissent at the private space company. The employees also raised concerns about the safety of the New Shepard system.

Blue Origin said in a statement it does not tolerate discrimination of harassment, but a spokesperson did not specifically address safety issues raised in the open letter.

The other two passengers on the NS-18 mission are paying customers.

Chris Boshuizen co-founded Planet Labs, now known as Planet, in 2010 and served as the San Francisco-based company’s chief technology officer for five years. Planet builds small spacecraft and operates a fleet of more than 100 Earth-imaging satellites to collect daily remote sensing imagery.

Glen de Vries co-founded Medidata Solutions in 1999, a software company widely used in clinical trials. He is now vice chair of life science sand heath care at Dassault Systèmes, which acquired Medidata for $5.8 billion in 2019. Blue Origin said de Vries is also a trustee of Carnegie Mellon University, an author, and a private pilot.

Blue Origin did not disclose how much the customers paid for their seats. Both participated in a charity auction in June for a seat on the first New Shepard flight with human passengers. The winning bid for that seat, which ultimately went to Daemen through his father, was $28 million.

Shatner is a longtime space enthusiast and advocate for space exploration. He played the role of Captain Kirk on the “Star Trek” television series in the 1960s, and in seven movies, one of which he directed.

The trip to space will last about 10 minutes after blastoff from Blue Origin’s launch site near Van Horn, Texas. Shatner and his co-passengers will spend several minutes in microgravity, giving them the opportunity to unstrap from their seats and float in the cabin of Blue Origin’s crew module.

The reusable New Shepard booster will return to Earth for a propulsive landing, and the crew capsule will descend under three main parachutes, landing a few miles from the launch site in West Texas.

Shatner’s voyage into space comes amid a boom in private human spaceflight.

Virgin Galactic, founded by billionaire Richard Branson, is competing with Blue Origin in the suborbital spaceflight realm. Branson and five other Virgin Galactic employees flew to the edge of space in July over New Mexico in the company’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane.

SpaceX launched four private citizens into orbit on a three-day mission last month, and a Russian actress and film director are preparing to launch to the International Space Station Tuesday. They will film scenes on the space station for a Russian feature-length movie before returning to Earth later this month.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.


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