Shatner Overwhelmed Seeing Earth from Space: “Everybody In the World Should Do This”

Shatner Overwhelmed Seeing Earth from Space: “Everybody In the World Should Do This”

Actor William Shatner, who just made his first actual trip to space after decades portraying Star Trek’s fictional Captain Kirk, was overwhelmed by the experience. His emotional and eloquent description of comprehending Earth’s fragility by seeing it from space exemplifies what space advocates hope will be a newfound appreciation for our home planet as ordinary citizens get a chance to see it from above. He thinks “everybody in the world should do this.”

At 90, Shatner is the oldest person to fly to space, crossing the imaginary line between air and space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard-18 (NS-18) mission just before 11:00 am EDT.

The flight was delayed for one day due to winds. This morning, wind and two unexplained holds during the countdown pushed the launch time back from 8:30 am to 9:49 am Central Time (10:49 am Eastern) at New Shepard’s launch site near Van Horn, Texas. The brief suborbital ride ended 10 minutes and 17 seconds later, with the reusable rocket returning to its launch pad and the crew capsule landing nearby. This was the fourth landing of this particular booster.

The rocket’s highest altitude was 347,160 feet (106 kilometers) Above Ground Level (AGL) or  350,807 feet (107 km) Mean Sea Level (MSL). Blue Origin uses the international standard of 100 kilometers (62 miles) as the demarcation between air and space. The U.S. government and others, including suborbital human spaceflight competitor Virgin Galactic, use 80 kilometers (50 miles).

The crew capsule separates from the rocket and flies a little higher than the rocket: 347,539 feet (106 km) AGL or 351, 186 feet (107 km) MSL. It lands under parachutes, with a brief engine burn just as its reaches the ground to soften the impact, which kicks up a lot of dust.

Blue Origin NS-18 descending from space, October 13, 2021. Screengrab.


Bllue Origin NS-18 touchdown, October 13, 2021. Screengrab.

Shatner was a guest of Blue Origin owner Jeff Bezos along with Blue Origin’s own Audrey Powers, Vice President for Mission and Flight Operations. They were joined by two paying customers, Australian Chris Boshuizen who co-founded Planet Labs, and Glen de Vries, co-founder of Medidata Solutions. Planet Labs owns a fleet of earth observation satellites. Medidata Solutions develops software to support clinical trials.

Passengers on Blue Origin’s NS-18: (L-R): Chris Boshuizen, William Shatner, Audrey Powers, Glen de Vries. Credit: Blue Origin

Bezos, along with Richard Branson, who owns Virgin Galactic, and Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, are all intent on the “democratization” of space where anyone, not only specially trained government astronauts, can see the planet from the vantage point of space. Bezos and Branson offer short, suborbital rides. Musk’s Crew Dragon spacecraft go all the way into orbit. SpaceX’s first private flight, Inspiration 4, last month put four non-professional astronauts into orbit for three days.

These billionaires are not doing this out of altruism, however. They all want to make money. Branson is charging $450,000 for a trip on his SpaceShipTwo, the spaceflight portion of which also lasts 10-15 minutes. Bezos and Musk are not disclosing how much they want. Blue Origin auctioned a seat on its first passenger mission in July for $28 million, but whoever won the auction decided not to fly. A Dutch teenager with a wealthy father flew instead. Whether he, Boshuizen, or de Vries paid anything close to that is known only to them and Blue Origin. Crew Dragon’s multi-day orbital flights are rumored to be about $55 million per person.

Critics point out that the only people getting to see Earth from space are professional astronauts, and wealthy individuals and whoever they choose to take with them. But ordinary people are among those getting chosen, including Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic employees and the three Inspiration4 crew members sponsored by Jared Isaacman. A wealthy tech entrepreneur, he paid for everything and used the event to raise more than $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Though a Hollywood legend, Shatner counts as an “ordinary person” in this context and his reaction may resonate with a broad audience.

After landing, he gave an emotional account of what he experienced [watch beginning at 2:45:00] albeit interrupted by the revelry of others.

What he didn’t imagine was how quickly the blue atmosphere would fly by and put them suddenly in the blackness of space.

“Everybody in the world needs to do this.  …  But to see the blue color just whip by and now you’re staring into blackness. That’s the thing. The covering of blue, this sheet, this blanket, this comforter of blue that we have around us. We think, oh that’s blue sky. And then you rip off the sheet … and you’re looking into the blackness …. and you look down, there’s the blue down there. And the black up there. It’s just … there is Mother Earth, and comfort, and there … is there death?  I don’t know. Is that the way death is? Whoop and it’s gone. It was so moving to me.

… There’s this soft blue. The beauty of that color and it’s so thin, and you’re through it in an instant….

… What you [Bezos] have given me is the most profound experience I can imagine.  I’m so filled with emotion about what just happened. I just, it’s extraordinary. Extraordinary. I hope I never recover from this. I hope that I can maintain what I feel now. I don’t want to lose it.”

… What I would love to do is to communicate as much as possible the jeopardy. The moment you see the vulnerability of everything.  It’s so small. This air, which is keeping us alive is thinner than your skin. It’s a sliver. It’s immeasurably small, when you think in terms of the universe. It’s neglible.

… It would be important for everybody to have that experience by one means or another. Maybe you could put it on 3D, with the goggles. …

Bezos undoubtedly would prefer to have people experience it first hand like Shatner on New Shepard flights. Almost two decades in the making, private spaceflight is finally getting going this year with flights already by all three companies and more in the works.

Russia offers private astronauts flights, too.  A Russian actress and film director are on the ISS right now.

New Shepard is just one project in Bezos’s plan for Blue Origin, all part of a grand vision of eventually moving heavy industry off of Earth into cislunar space (between the Earth and the Moon) to preserve the planet for residential use and light industry.

He has nearer term problems to overcome at the moment, however. An open letter penned by 21 former and current employees lambasted the company’s “toxic” work environment and sowed doubt about the safety of New Shepard. The FAA issued a statement that it “takes every safety allegation seriously, and the agency is reviewing the information.” Blue Origin’s livestream of this morning’s launch stressed again and again that safety is its highest priority.

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