Should all go according to plan, Shatner, 90, will become the oldest person to travel in space, even if it’s just for a few minutes. The current record belongs to 82-year-old Wally Funk, who set the mark earlier this year during the same flight that took Jeff Bezos to space. That said, NASA astronaut John Glenn flew to space aboard the Space Shuttle at the age of 77, which still makes him the oldest astronaut according to the FAA’s definition of the term (tl;dr: to be an astronaut you actually have to do something while in space, aside from gawking at the view).
After it was announced that Shatner was joining the NS-18 flight, the actor admitted to being terrified. Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Shatner said he’s now feeling “comfortable, but also a bit uncomfortable.” Age, he said, won’t be a factor, aside from having to get in and out the seats both before and after launch.
“So unless you’re really supple, getting in and out of the seats…when we’re in gravity, is a chore,” Shatner said. “But of course it’s designed [for us] to float out of the seat, in weightlessness.” Shatner is most looking forward to being in weightlessness, as everything after that “should be all right.” To which he added: “And we’ll have that moment of inspiration, which I feel will be there when we’re looking into the vastness of the universe.”
Following the few minutes of weightlessness, Shatner and his crewmates will return to their seats and buckle up in preparation for re-entry. The capsule will descend with parachute assist and make a soft landing in the desert. The whole thing will last no longer than around 15 minutes.
NS-18 is poised to be just the second crewed flight of New Shephard. On July 20, Blue Origin successfully sent company founder Jeff Bezos, along with three others, to beyond the Kármán line—the threshold of space according to the International Aeronautical Federation. Flying at a maximum altitude of around 66 miles (106 km), Shatner will be joined by Chris Boshuizen, a former NASA engineer and co-founder of Planet Labs, Glen de Vries, the vice-chair of life sciences and health care at French software company Dassault Systèmes, and Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s vice president of mission and flight operations and a former flight controller with NASA.
For Bezos, the Shatner flight is serving as a timely distraction. Blue Origin was recently accused of fostering sexism at the workplace and pushing employees to their limits. Claims that the company has been favoring rapid deployment over safety concerns have now led to an FAA investigation. Blue Origin is also embroiled in a legal battle with NASA over a lunar lander contract that the company believes was unfairly awarded to SpaceX.