William Shatner, the veteran actor who spent four decades playing the fearless commander of Star Trek’s USS Enterprise, is set for a real-life leap into the stars on Wednesday on the next stage of billionaire Jeff Bezos’s quest to dominate the fledgling space tourism industry.
The successful completion of the 11-minute flight alongside three civilian crew mates, with lift-off of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket scheduled for 8.30am CT (2.30pm BST) from its Van Horn, Texas, launchpad, would make Shatner, 90, the oldest human to fly into space.
It also marks the second attempted crewed flight of the rocket system that lifted Bezos, the 57-year-old Amazon founder and world’s richest man, his brother Mark, and two other passengers, 66.5 miles into space in July.
Bezos hailed his joyride, which came nine days after the British billionaire Sir Richard Branson’s flight to the edge of space aboard Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity, as “the best day ever”. The two tycoons are sparring with a third wealthy entrepreneur, Elon Musk of SpaceX, to offer regular trips off the planet for fare paying passengers.
Canadian Shatner, who will assume the mantle of oldest space traveler from Wally Funk, an 82-year-old who flew with Bezos, said he expected the toughest part of the flight to be climbing into his seat.
“The only thing about age that has application to this particular vehicle is getting in and out of the seat with any kind of arthritis,” the actor best known as Star Trek’s Captain James Kirk told reporters on Monday.
“So unless you’re really supple, getting in and out of the seats in weight, when we’re in gravity, is a chore. But of course it’s designed [for us] to float out of the seat, in weightlessness.”
Today’s flight, the 18th flight overall for the capsule named for Alan Shepard, the first American in space in 1961, was pushed back a day from Tuesday because of strong winds.
The three other passengers are Audrey Powers, a Blue Origin executive; Chris Boshuizen, a former Nasa engineer and founder of the satellite earth imaging company Planet Labs; and Glen de Vries, chief executive of the clinical research firm Medidata Solutions.