Star Trek star William Shatner was launched to the edge of space on Wednesday, becoming the oldest person to make the voyage.
Just before 11 a.m ET Wednesday, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ aerospace company, Blue Origin, rocketed the 90-year-old sci-fi actor in a capsule from a launchpad in Van Horn, Texas, for the roughly 10-minute milestone trip.
After coming back down to earth, an emotional Shatner waxed poetic to Bezos about what he called “the most profound experience.”
“There is mother and Earth and comfort,” Shatner said, pointing below. “And there—is there death? I don’t know, is that death? Is that the way death is? Whoop, and it’s gone. Jesus,” he told Bezos, who celebrated touchdown by showering family and friends with champagne.
“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 much larger than me and life,” he said through tears. “The enormity, and the quickness, and the subtleness of life and death.”
“The jeopardy—the moment you see the vulnerability of everything—is so small—this air which is keeping us alive is thinner than your skin, it’s a sliver, it’s immeasurably small when you think in terms of the universe,” he added.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle blasted Shatner and three other passengers into the western skies of Texas to an altitude of roughly 351,000 feet, permitting them to revel in about four minutes of weightlessness in microgravity.
Shatner scheduled a Tweet to publish as he rocketed into the sky, that included a quote from renowned mathematician and scientist Isaac Newton:
Ahead of the trip Wednesday, he said during a Today show interview that he was eager to witness the “miracle of our Earth” from an extraterrestrial vantage point.
“I’m going to see the vastness of space and the extraordinary miracle of our Earth and how fragile it is compared to the forces at work in the universe—that’s really what I’m looking for.”
On Wednesday morning, Shatner and his crewmates crossed a bridge linking a launch tower to the crew capsule, with each passenger ringing a bell before boarding. Bezos closed the hatch minutes before takeoff.
Their space jaunt was originally scheduled for Tuesday but was delayed amid predictions about dangerously high wind gusts, according to the National Weather Service.
Blue Origin piloted its first launch with passengers in July when it sent Bezos and his brother Mark Bezos, along with aviation pioneer Wally Funk, 82, and the company’s first paying customer, 18-year-old Oliver Daemen of the Netherlands, on a suborbital mission.
Members of Blue Origin’s first crew wrote messages to Shatner and company that were read as they waited during a delayed takeoff with seatbelts fastened.
“I hope this flight will be the most fantastic experience of your life as it was mine,” Funk wrote.
“You lucky bastards,” Mark Bezos wrote, inviting laughter from the crew. “It was only ten weeks ago that I was sitting where you are, watching the countdown clock, full of anticipation and excitement, eager to feel the rumble of liftoff and the majesty of weightlessness. The depth of my desire to fly again is hard to express.”
Days before Blue Origin’s July launch, space travel competitor Virgin Galactic flew its founder, British billionaire Richard Branson, and five other passengers on a similar suborbital mission that shot them more than 50 miles into the sky from a launchpad in New Mexico.
Last month, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule also flew its first private crew of space tourists into orbit and has plans for more civilian space exploration trips next year.
After the back-to-back launches, Shatner, who became famous for playing the role of Captain Kirk on Star Trek, was named as one of the passengers for Blue Origin’s second flight.
“Yes, it’s true; I’m going to be a ‘rocket man!’” Shatner wrote on Twitter last week ahead of the trip. “I’ve heard about space for a long time now. I’m taking the opportunity to see it for myself. What a miracle.”
Shatner was joined on the journey by Audrey Powers, who oversees the company’s flight operations, and crewmates Glen de Vries and Chris Boshuizen. De Vries, who co-founded clinical research software Medidata and Boshuizen, who is a co-founder of the satellite imagery firm Planet Labs, paid for their spots on the rocket.
The company has been tight-lipped about the price of the tickets, opting for private sales that Bezos has claimed have hit more than $100 million in bookings.
Meanwhile, Branson’s company has set a starting price tag for seats on its rivaling space tourism voyages at $450,000.
Wednesday’s launch comes weeks after Alexandra Abrams, the former head of Blue Origin’s employee communications, released an essay together with 20 other current and former Blue Origin employees accusing the company of turning “a blind eye to sexism.” The essay also alleged that the company is “not sufficiently attuned to safety concerns and silences those who seek to correct wrongs.”
The Washington Post later reported in more detail about a culture of dysfunction at the company, citing interviews from 20 Blue Origin workers who complained about a toxic workplace and “bro culture.”
Bezos’ company has responded to those claims by saying that it had an anonymous hotline for sexual harassment complaints while insisting that New Shepard was the “safest space vehicle ever designed or built.”