New Shepard NS-18 mission crew members (L-R) Blue Origin vice president Audrey Powers; "Star Trek" actor William Shatner and Medidata Solutions Co-Founder, Glen de Vries ride to the launch pad on October 13, 2021
Launch Site One (United States) (AFP) - “Star Trek” actor William Shatner is set to boldly go where no 90-year-old has gone before when he blasts off to space Wednesday 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 take off from the company’s West Texas base at 9:30 am (1430 GMT).
Countdown was paused for around 30 minutes for final checks, briefly delaying the launch.
Shatner will be joined on the New Shepard rocket by Blue Origin executive Audrey Powers, Planet Labs co-founder Chris Boshuizen, an Australian national, and Glen de Vries of clinical research platform Medidata Solutions.
Company founder Jeff Bezos was on hand to greet the crew members as they made their way up the launch tower and entered the spaceship.
The journey lasts around 11 minutes and will see the crew soar beyond the Karman Line – the internationally recognized boundary of space, 62 miles (100 kilometers) high – before the capsule floats back to Earth on parachutes for a gentle landing in the desert.
It’s an action replay of the company’s maiden human flight in July, which included Bezos and was seen as 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 suggesting a man decades younger.
The intergalactic voyages of the USS Enterprise, commanded by Captain Kirk, helped turn American attention to the stars as the US space program was starting out.
Graphic explaining the different flight stages of Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket
“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 Trek historian Marc Cushman told AFP.
Shatner, also known for his role as lawyer Denny Crane in “Boston Legal,” among many others, has spoken in the past about an at-times 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.”
- Space tourism heating up -
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.
Blue Origin is trying to establish itself as space tourism's leading player as the competition is raging
Boshuizen and Vries will bring the company’s total number of paying customers to three, after Dutch teen Oliver Daemen became the first during the first flight.
Competition in the sector is heating up.
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 also 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.
The crew, (from R) Chris Boshuizen, Canadian actor William Shatner, Audrey Powers and Glen de Vries, will hop just beyond Earth's atmosphere
For many space enthusiasts, Shatner’s voyage is a fitting coda for a pop culture phenomenon that inspired generations of astronauts, scientists and engineers.
The show has had a long-running association with NASA, whose scientists were sent early scripts to vet their accuracy, according to Cushman, the writer.
“Those scientists, as well as nearly everyone at those space agencies, were avid Star Trek watchers, and they well understood that the popularity of the series helped spark growing interest and funding for the space program,” he said.
Another mega-fan: Bezos himself.
The Amazon founder shared an Instagram post of Star Trek artwork he made when he was nine years old, which included a communication device that influenced flip phone design decades later.
Bezos has said Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant was inspired by the conversational computer on the Enterprise, and he even made a cameo as an alien in the 2016 film “Star Trek Beyond,” sporting an egg-shaped head.