Famed Star Trek actor William Shatner and a crew of three fellow passengers successfully flew to the edge of space and back this morning on Blue Origin’s New Shepard tourist rocket. The foursome took off from Blue Origin’s launch facility in Van Horn, Texas at 9:50AM ET, climbed to an altitude of roughly 66 miles up, and then safely landed back on Earth.
Flying alongside Shatner today were two paying customers and a Blue Origin employee. They included Chris Boshuizen, co-founder of small satellite company Planet Labs, and Glen de Vries, co-founder of Medidata, a software company. Audrey Powers, vice president of mission and flight operations at Blue Origin, represented the company on the flight.
After Shatner landed, he shed tears, emotional about what just happened. “What you have given me is the most profound experience,” Shatner told Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos after the actor landed. “I’m so filled with emotion about what just happened. I just, it’s extraordinary, extraordinary. I hope I never recover from this.” Shatner argued afterward that everybody needs to see what he saw, even comparing the experience of transitioning from blue sky to the blackness of space to what dying might feel like. “Is that what death is?” he asked.
This morning’s flight, lasting just a little over 10 minutes in length, marks the second successful crewed launch for Blue Origin on the New Shepard rocket. The company’s first crewed launch on July 20th carried Bezos, who is the former CEO of Amazon. He flew along with his brother, Mark, a Dutch teenager, and legendary aviator Wally Funk. When Funk flew, she became the oldest person in space at 82 years old, but this morning, 90-year-old Shatner surpassed her.
New Shepard is the company’s primary rocket at the moment. The vehicle is suborbital, so it cannot achieve enough speed to get into orbit around the Earth. Instead, it’s capable of launching crews to the edge of space and back so that riders can experience weightlessness for a few minutes. To get to space, crews launch strapped inside a crew capsule, perched on top of the rocket. Once high above the Earth, the capsule and rocket separate, and passengers briefly float throughout the cabin. Then, both pieces of the vehicle fall back to Earth; the capsule lands under parachutes while the rocket reignites its engine and lands upright.
Though Shatner’s flight was ultimately a success, it comes amid a tumultuous time for Blue Origin. Just before the mission, 21 current and former employees published a damning essay, criticizing Blue Origin’s culture as both sexist and unsafe. A recent Washington Post investigation also revealed employees think Blue Origin has “an authoritarian bro culture.”