After traveling to the edge of space this week, William Shatner and the crew of the NS-18 mission made it back to Earth safe and sound. This was the second time Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle flew to space with a crew aboard, and as with the inaugural flight, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos decided to enlist some star power! Who better than the man known to millions of fans as James Tiberius Kirk, Captain of the starship Enterprise?
At 90 years of age, the veteran actor of television, film, and stage is the oldest person to fly to space. The previous record was held by 82-year old veteran aviator Wally Funk, who went to space as part of the first crewed flight of the New Shepard on July 20th. Along with his fellow crewmembers, Shatner’s experienced what it’s like to go to space for the first time from the company’s Launch Site One facility in West Texas.
On Wednesday, Oct. 13th, the flight took place at 09:49 AM local time (10:49 AM EST; 07:49 AM PST) and saw the RSS First Step space capsule ascend beyond the Kármán Line – the official boundary of space, 100 km (62 mi) in altitude. And of course, the entire experience was caught on film, particularly the five minutes where the crew of four were weightless and looked out at Earth’s horizon from space.
Shatner expressed what it was like to be selected for the NS-18 mission in a video released by Blue Origin prior to launch (shown above). “Having played the role of Captain Kirk, everybody assigns me the knowledge that a futuristic astronaut would have,” he said. “But I’ve always been consumed with curiosity, and it’s the adventure that I feel so good doing.”
Upon landing, Shatner had some teary words to share with Bezos, and all those turned out at the landing site to greet them. “Everybody in the world needs to see. There is mother Earth and comfort. But what you see is black. What you have given me is the most profound experience I can imagine. I’m so filled with emotion with what just happened. It’s extraordinary. Extraordinary.”
In addition to Shatner, the crew included Audrey Powers, the vice president of mission and flight operations at Blue Origin and the chair of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation’s board of directors. “I think I reached a certain age, and I had given up on the idea that I would go to space,” she said. “I was teary-eyed that this opportunity has befallen me. It’s one of those moments where your life flashes before your eyes, you know?”
Rounding out the four-person crew were Chris Boshuizen and Glen de Vries, who were paying customers. Boshuizen is an Australian investment banker with DCVC and the co-founder of Planet, an Earth-observation and satellite data provider. De Vries, meanwhile, is the co-founder of Medidata Solutions (a clinical research company) and the vice-chair of life sciences and healthcare at the French software company Dassault Systèmes.
Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith praised the mission and its participants in a company press release that followed the completion of the successful flight:
“At Blue Origin, we are motivated by the dreamers that inspire us and the builders who turn those dreams into reality. Today’s crew represented both dreamers and builders. We had the honor of flying our very own Audrey Powers, Vice President of New Shepard Operations, who fulfilled a lifelong dream to go to space and has been an integral part of building New Shepard.
“Our two customers, Chris Boshuizen and Glen de Vries, have built their own successful ventures and have now realized their own dreams of space travel. And, as everyone knows, 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. This flight was another step forward in flying astronauts safely and often. It’s an incredible team and we are just getting started.”
All told, the NS-18 flight lasted a total of 10 minutes and 17 seconds, achieved a maximum altitude of 107 km (mi) and a max ascent velocity of 3,597 km/h (2,235 mph). The mission also represented several milestones for the company, which included being the 17th consecutive booster landing and the fourth consecutive landing for this particular booster. It was also the 19th consecutive successful landing with a New Shepard crew capsule.
“Congratulations to the entire Blue Origin team on today’s mission and stay tuned for more from Launch Site One!” tweeted Jeff Bezos from Blue Origin’s official Twitter account.