Billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin charges top dollar for space travel, but some customers may feel an “overwhelming sadness” during the trip. This is how William Shatner describes the feeling on his trip outside the Earth’s atmosphere last year, which he accepted thanks to an invitation from the founder of Amazon.
The Star Trek alum describes the experience in his new book Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonderan extract from which variety published this week.
Shatner, who sounds like Captain James T. Kirk, writes: “I love the mystery of the universe… The stars that exploded years ago, their light traveling to us years later; energy-absorbing black holes; satellites showing us entire galaxies in areas thought to be completely devoid of matter… all of this has excited me for years.”
But he seems to have been caught off guard by his own reaction to the “vicious coldness of space” surrounding the “life, sustenance and upkeep of the planet.”
“When I looked in the opposite direction, into space, there was no mystery, no majestic awe to behold…all I saw was death,” he writes. “I saw a cold, dark, black void. It was unlike any darkness you can see or feel on Earth. It was deep, enveloping, global.”
He also felt sadness, he writes, about the damage being done to the planet:
“Every day we face the knowledge of a greater destruction of the Earth at our hands: the extinction of animal species, of flora and fauna … things that took five billion years to evolve, and suddenly we’ll never see them again because of humanity’s interference. It filled me with fear. My journey into space was supposed to be a celebration; instead, it felt like a funeral.”
Privately owned Blue Origin, founded in 2000 and funded by Bezos, has launched dozens of paying customers to the edge of space. Its New Shepard rocket capsule system sends passengers 62 miles above the planet, where they experience microgravity before the capsule returns to Earth under parachute.
How much customers pay varies widely, with some celebrities, such as Shatner and former NFL star Michael Strahan, getting free flights while others spend more than $20 million.
Bezos himself was one of the first passengers in 2021, when he joined others on the debut crewed launch.
The journey is not without risks. Last month, a New Shepard booster engine blew out during ascent, causing a rocket to crash in the Texas desert. The capsule, which in this case had no crew on board, successfully exited the rocket and parachuted back to earth safely.
Shatner, 90 at the time of his trip, was well aware of the risks. He writes:
“The ground crew reassured us on the way. ‘Everything will be fine. Don’t worry about anything. Everything is fine. Sure, easy for them to say, I thought. They can stay here on the ground…When the day finally came, I couldn’t get the Hindenburg out of my head. It’s not enough to cancel, of course; I consider myself a professional and I was booked. The show must go on.”
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