William Shatner’s real-life journey out of the world

William Shatner’s epic suborbital space flight

The Star Trek franchise instilled the dream of traveling to space in the minds of many. William Shatner has been an actor in the franchise playing the role of the iconic Captain Kirk.

After acting in the franchise for years, Shatner finally traveled to space, but for real this time. At the age of 90, the actor became the oldest person to be involved in space travel. Before Shatner, the oldest person to visit space was Wally Funk. Wally traveled to space in the first flight of Blue Origin and held the title for less than three months.

Learn more about the flight of Shatner from this article.

Blue Origin launches William Shatner

Blue Origin is the company responsible for launching William Shatner into space. The company completed its second human spaceflight on 13 October 2021. The first human spaceflight of the company had Jeff Bezos on board.

This time it was the turn of Blue Origin to launch its first celebrity customer, William Shatner. The spaceflight was named New Sheppard in honor of a former NASA scientist of the same name. It was the sixth spaceflight to take private passengers on a trip to space.

From left, Chris Boshuizen, Mr. Shatner, Audrey Powers and Glen de Vries, the crew of the New Shepard’s second flight.Credit…Blue Origin, via Associated Press

Co-passengers of William Shatner

The New Shepard launch system flew 62 miles above sea level. The spaceflight had former NASA engineer Chris Boshuizen and healthcare entrepreneur Glen de Vries with Shatner. The vice-president of mission and flight operations in Blue Origin, Audrey Powers, was also on board.

  • The spaceflight had two paying customers and created a landmark in the space tourism The revenue-generating spaceflight of Blue Origin advanced its competition with rival Virgin Galactic after its second flight. The automated spaceflight did not have any professional pilot on board.
  • The launch was supposed to happen on 12 October. But due to winds in the forecast, the flight got postponed to the next day. Even on Wednesday, the flight was delayed for thirty minutes. But it finally took off on Wednesday and successfully crossed the Karman line.

The eleven-minute flight enabled passengers to briefly experience weightlessness. The passengers on New Shepard could see the curvature of the Earth. William Shatner and the other passengers also viewed the thin atmosphere of Earth against the blackness of space.

Star Trek captain William Shatner and Jeff Bezos during a rehearsal for a suborbital space trip in Blue Origin’s New Shepard crew capsule. (Blue Origin via Instagram)

William Shatner’s experience

Despite playing the character of the fictional space traveler, Shatner never knew he would travel to space in real life. A few minutes after the New Shepard was launched, the capsule got detached from the booster. The capsule continued soaring towards the suborbital space.

Shatner and the crew experienced weightlessness along with a mesmerizing view of our planet. They reentered the Earth’s atmosphere with a soft landing in the desert assisted by a parachute. During the descent, Shatner could be heard exclaiming that the experience was indescribable.

Jeff Bezos greeted Shatner and the crew in the Texas desert. He thanked the billionaire for giving him the most profound experience of his life. Shatner said that he never hopes to recover from the profound experience.

Shatner has also successfully released a few albums of his own. He said he wants to write about his experience of going to space in his next song.

Controversies regarding New Shepard

While William Shatner was thrilled to be on the spaceflight, an open letter from current and former Blue Origin employees questioned its safety. New Sheppard has been launched into space sixteen times, and it landed successfully without any errors. But employees revealed in the letter that spaceflight had various concerns from the inside.

  • Alexandra Abrams was responsible for publishing the letter on the Lioness website. She was the head of employee communications at Blue Origin. While no other names surfaced on the letter, Abrams revealed that twenty other former and current Blue Origin employees co-wrote it.
  • Some of the employees revealed that they would not feel safe riding any Blue Origin spaceflight themselves. The employees accused Jeff Bezos of compromising safety to make progress. The letter said that competing with other billionaires in the space tourism industry often prevented Jeff from prioritizing safety concerns.

The writers of the letter felt that the breakneck pace of launching the flight compromised flight safety, considering the available staff and resources. In the opinion of an engineer who contributed to the letter, Blue Origin has been lucky that no accidents happened to date.

Blue Origin’s opinion about the letter

Blue Origin decided to stand by their safety records even after the letter was published. The company revealed that New Shepard is one of the safest spaceflight, designed with efficiency. Blue Origin gave out a statement that they dismissed Abrams for a cause.

The company said that several warnings were sent out to Abrams. The warnings revolved around issues with the federal export control regulations. However, Abrams firmly declined to receive any such warnings.

Emergency safety features of New Sheppard

The launch of a spaceflight revolves around the engines burning for liftoff and the rockets separating from the capsule. After that, the parachutes deploy downwards. The testing process of a spaceflight verifies whether these nail-biting moments are occurring one after the other smoothly.

Blue Origin did not reveal anything about the way they conduct their testing processes. But the company did reveal some of the safety features of the New Shepard launch system.

  • After the New Shepard rocket is lifted off, it travels through the atmosphere for three minutes. After that, the passenger capsule gets released, and the rocket falls back to the Earth. During this process, something or the other might go wrong.
  • If something goes wrong, an emergency-escape system is present to prompt the passenger capsule to detach. The passengers can be safe from the impending doom only if the passenger capsule gets detached.
  • Blue Origin has conducted the escape system of the New Shepard thrice. They tested it once on the launchpad, once in midair, and another time in space. The testing process indicates that if the rocket explodes, the capsule will be able to carry the passengers back to safety.
  • Once the capsule is landing back on the Earth, three parachutes are supposed to deploy. If the first parachute fails, the capsule will be able to exert more pressure on the engines facing downward. If the first and the second parachute fails, a crushable “bumper” below the capsule will be able to absorb the landing.

Gary Lai, senior director of the design of New Shepard, has revealed that it is a highly redundant and the safest spaceflight system. The spacecraft has safety features for any kind of emergency. In fact, every backup safety system has a backup. The New Shepard also has oxygen masks which can be used if the passenger cabin becomes depressurized.

Passengers of Blue Origin fly at their own risk

Every spacecraft has a wide spectrum of risks associated with it. But with private companies emerging in the space tourism industry, the spaceflights undergo little supervision from the government. Passengers such as William Shatner fly in the spaceflights at their own risk.

Around 1% of US space flights with human beings have been in fatal accidents. The possibility of accidents in spaceflight is 10,000 times more than flying in a commercial airplane. No federal agency is responsible for the safety of the passengers on private space flights. The FAA is only responsible for ensuring that the space flights that are launched do not cause any harm to the people on the ground or other commercial aircraft.

Ending note

William Shatner had a once-in-a-lifetime experience by traveling to space on Blue Origin’s spaceflight. Despite all controversies regarding the safety of the New Shepard, Shatner had an amazing experience on the journey.

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