Another Actor Heads to Space — This Time It’s Captain Kirk

Another Actor Heads to Space — This Time It’s Captain Kirk

Russia is in the news right now because it is sending an actress to the International Space Station tomorrow to shoot scenes for an upcoming Russian movie, but another actor is headed to space, too. Blue Origin announced today that William Shatner, the iconic Captain James T. Kirk in the original Star Trek series, will finally make it to space later this month.

The Canadian-born Shatner, now 90, will become the oldest person to fly to space on October 12 on Blue Origin’s next New Shepard suborbital mission. The company and Shatner confirmed today what had been rumored for weeks.

Debuting in 1966, the original Star Trek series lasted just three years, but spawned sequels and movies that have fascinated, entertained and motivated generations since.

Shatner’s first actual trip to space this year, the show’s 55th anniversary, seems fitting.

Blue Origin may epitomize commercial space, but Shatner and other actors from the series, especially Nichelle Nichols who protrayed Lt. Uhura, have been very active in supporting NASA. Last month the agency issued a press release acknowledging the show’s influence on NASA and vice versa.  “The mutual attraction between NASA and Star Trek is that both, to paraphrase the opening voiceover from the TV series, seek to explore and discover new worlds, and to boldly go where no one has gone before. The diversity, inclusion, and inspiration involved in these endeavors ensures that they will live long and prosper.”

William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, center (in chair). Nichell Nichols (Lt. Uhura) is second from right in second row. Credit: NASA press release, Sept 8, 2021, “courtesy of NBC.

Joining him on the flight are Blue Origin’s own Audrey Powers, a company employee since 2013 who oversees all New Shepard operations.  She also chairs the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, an industry group.

Both are “guests” who are not paying to fly.  The two paying passengers are Chris Boshuizen, co-founder of Planet Labs, and Glen de Vries of Medidata Solutions. Blue Origin told that the two participated in the auction held this summer that was won by someone who bid $28 million. The identity of that person remains secret. He or she decided not to fly on Blue Origin’s inaugural human spaceflight on July 20 because of a schedule conflict and a Dutch teenager, Oliver Daemen, got to go instead. Blue Origin confirmed to today that neither Boshuizen nor de Vries was the $28 million bidder.

Daemen became the youngest person at 18 to reach space on that New Shepard flight. His companions were Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, and famed aviatrix Wally Funk, who became the oldest at 82.

Shatner now will eclipse Funk’s record just three months later.

Shatner is the original Kirk and though his character may have traveled the galaxy, he was just an actor who lost his job.  Two years ago, on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, he told AARP what real life was like after the series ended.

Star Trek had recently been canceled. I was freshly divorced. I was broke and doing summer stock because I needed the money. The play I was doing ran from Tuesday through Saturday night, and on that night of the landing I was in a pasture on Long Island, stretched out on my little bed in the camper top on my pickup truck. I was there with my Doberman, gazing up at the moon through a tiny window and, at the same time, watching the live broadcast on a 4-inch black-and-white television. …

Someone at NASA told me that the more Star Trek’s ratings were up, the more money Congress would put into the space program. So, in some minute way, I felt I contributed to this Apollo 11 venture. But by that summer, the show was gone and I was at my nadir, yearning somehow to be in the apogee of all that the moon shot represented.

Now he gets a chance to reach the apogee that puts him over the line that separates air and space.

Blue Origin uses 100 kilometers (62 miles) as that dividing line, though others, including the U.S. government, use a lower limit of 80 kilometers (50 miles).

A trip on New Shepard is brief, blasting off from a launch pad in West Texas and returning to land close to the same spot about 10 minutes later.

By contrast, Russian actress Yulia Peresild and film director Klim Shipenko will spend 12 days in Earth orbit aboard the ISS.  Their launch on Soyuz MS-19 is coming up in a few hours at 4:55 am EDT October 5.

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