“Is That Death?”: William Shatner's Response To Space Trip Is A Wild Ride

The crew of NS-18. Image Credit: Blue Origin

This week, legendary Star Trek actor William Shatner became the oldest person to go to space and however you feel about space tourism, you can appreciate his genuine amazement at being able to look back at our planet we call Earth. Being William Shatner, of course, his responses ranged from the profound to the hilarious.  

Shatner went to space on Wednesday aboard the Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin New Shepherd rocket on its second-ever crewed trip to space, after Bezos himself went in July

The trip lasted 10 minutes and 17 seconds in total. The four-person crew reached an altitude of 107 kilometers (66 miles), experienced microgravity, and then came back down, landing in the Texas desert where Bezos met them with champagne.

In a short clip released by Blue Origin, you can see his and the others' response to both weightlessness and the view of Earth. “Oh wow,” the veteran actor can be heard saying repeatedly. “No description can equal this weightlessness,” he says followed by his iconic deep laugh. Shatner, who turned 90 in March (beating legend Wally Funk's record of oldest person in space at 82), described going up to the edge of space as “the most profound experience I can imagine.”

 

On returning to Earth, Shatner went on an emotional and memorable rant, which handily Forbes transcribed so you can revel in its glory. 

"[E]verybody in the world needs to do this. Everybody in the world needs to see the, um... it’s still too... it was unbelievable, unbelievable," he told Bezos. "I mean, you know, the little things, the weightlessness. But to see the blue color go whoop by, and now you’re staring into blackness — that’s the thing!

"...we think, ‘Oh, that’s blue sky.’ And then suddenly you shoot through it all of a sudden, as though you whip off a sheet off you when you’re asleep, and you’re looking into blackness, into black ugliness, and you look down, there’s the blue down there, and the black up there and it’s... it’s just... there is Mother Earth and comfort, and there is — is there death? I don’t know, is that death? Is that the way death is? Whoop, and it’s gone. Jesus."

Shatner seemed profoundly affected by his experience, while Bezos seemed slightly more interested in grabbing a bottle of champagne to spray over the returning space tourists, offering Shatner some while he looked on bemused. 

"What you have given me is the most profound experience I can imagine," he continued. "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. It’s so... it’s so much larger than me and life. It hasn’t got anything to do with the little green planet, the blue orb and the — it has nothing to do with that. It has to do with the enormity, and the quickness and the suddenness of life and death and the — oh my god."

It's likely Shatner is experiencing what is known as the "overview effect", a term used by many astronauts as a way to describe the sensation of awe witnessing planet Earth from space. This sensation is experienced by first-time civilian space travelers and long-time experienced astronauts alike.

Although these trips to space are opening space tourism as an industry, the cost of a seat is not public (although Blue Origin has allegedly made $100 million on an unknown number of tickets) but the Canadian actor was offered his seat for free. A PR move that has certainly paid off.

Blue Origin is currently facing accusations of sexism in the workplace by current and former employees who have also expressed safety concerns. It is also in the process of taking NASA to court over its selection of SpaceX to build its upcoming lunar landing system, slowing the progress of the space agency's mission to return to the Moon.

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