Welcome to this week’s edition of The Intelligence Brief… as William Shatner has just returned from a brief jaunt into space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft, this week we’ll be looking at 1) Shatner’s participation in the company’s second successful human spaceflight, 2) the emotional description the actor gave upon landing, and 3) Shatner’s long-held interest in space, science, and the unexplained.
With that behind us, it’s time we turn our attention to space… the final frontier, and the intrepid journey to space of a man whose fictional spacefaring exploits have been watched by sci-fi fans around the world for more than half a century.
William Shatner Boldly Goes to the Final Frontier
It’s official: actor William Shatner, best known for his portrayal of Captain James T Kirk who led the crew of the Starship Enterprise in the classic Star Trek films and television series, became the oldest person to go into space on Wednesday.
Shatner was joined by Blue Origin customers Chris Boshuizen and Glen de Vries, as well as Vice President of New Shepard Operations Audrey Powers on board the New Shepard spacecraft, which saw takeoff at 9:49 A.M. local time and flew for 10 minutes and 17 seconds, landing at 9:59 A.M. The actor and his fellow crewmembers reached a maximum altitude above ground level (AGL) of nearly 66 miles, where they experienced weightlessness and were able to view the curvature of the Earth.
Carried with them to the edge of space were thousands of postcards from the Club for the Future, a Blue Origin foundation that aims to “inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM and to help invent the future of life in space,” according to the foundation’s website.
“William Shatner has played an important role in describing and imagining the wonders of the universe and inspired many of us to pursue a career in the space industry,” said Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith in a statement following the successful flight, calling it “another step forward in flying astronauts safely and often.”
“It’s an incredible team and we are just getting started,” Smith said.
Notably, New Shepard’s second successful human spaceflight received less criticism than its maiden manned voyage, which carried Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to the edge of space. Shatner’s iconic presence on board Wednesday’s flight not only seemed to have sweetened public perception of the event, but also drew media attention following the successful landing of the capsule in Texas, where the 90-year-old emerged to describe his experience in ways that bordered the mystical.
Beyond the Covering of Blue
“Everybody in the world needs to do this,” Shatner said after emerging from the Blue Origin capsule. Shatner became emotional while recounting the experience to Jeff Bezos, as bottles of champagne were shaken and sprayed behind them.
“It was unbelievable,” Shatner added. “To see the blue color go right by you, now you’re staring into blackness. That’s the thing!”
Shatner especially emphasized the striking visual effect of witnessing the spacecraft as it approached the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere.
“The covering of blue. This sheet… this blanket, this comforter of blue we have around us. We think, ‘oh, that’s blue sky.’ And then suddenly you shoot through it all of a sudden, as if you rip a sheet off of you when you’re asleep.”
The experience seemed to be more than just emotional for Shatner, who went on to describe the experience of peering beyond Earth’s blue atmosphere into the blackness of space in almost religious terms.
“Then you look into blackness. Into black ugliness. And you look down, and there’s the blue down there, and the black up there and its… it’s just… there is Mother Earth, and comfort, and [up] there… is there death? Is that death? I don’t know, is that the way death is?”
“What you have given me is the most profound experience I can imagine,” Shatner told Bezos, calling the experience “extraordinary.”
“I hope I never recover, that I can maintain what I feel now. I don’t want to lose it. It’s so much larger than me and life.”
Shatner’s Search for the Unexplained
The fact that Shatner seems to have related to his experience aboard the Blue Origin spacecraft on a spiritual level will come as no surprise to those familiar with his work from over the years, which has often involved subjects that fall beyond the scope of what modern science explores.
“I read a lot,” Shatner said. “I find myself watching documentary films rather than fictional ones. I read books about theoretical science.
“The world abounds in unexplained mysteries,” Shatner said, and when it comes to the three Navy videos released last year depicting aerial objects that the Pentagon can’t identify, Shatner has obviously kept up with this as well.
“[T]he Navy scrambled jets to investigate objects that were flying overhead. And they used their cameras, and the radar on the ground saw the same thing. And the Navy released the films. And the public saw footage of very mysterious things scooting around and going at impossible speeds.”
“What was all that?” Shatner asked. “We don’t know.”
Shatner, who also professes an interest in ancient monuments like the pyramids at Giza, as well as controversial ideas like whether past civilizations on Earth were ever visited by extraterrestrial visitors, says he remains “in the middle” on such issues.
“The middle is ‘I don’t know,’ ” Shatner said. “The middle is, ‘something happened.’ ”
As far as what happened yesterday aboard the Blue Origin spacecraft, it seems evident that Shatner—a man who has portrayed an intrepid space explorer on the silver screen for decades—finally reached what his viewers have long known as “the final frontier.” In doing so, he not only became the oldest, and most famous individual ever to have gone into space: he brought back to Earth with him a small piece of the enduring mystery it holds for humankind as we continue to advance our exploration of the cosmos.