The Star Trek actor William Shatner has become the oldest human in space, at the age of 90, during a brief but successful second crewed flight on Wednesday of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ship from the west Texas desert.
The Canadian, who for four decades played Captain James Kirk, the fearless commander of the USS Enterprise, was invited by the private space company’s founder and Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos to join three civilian crew mates for the almost 11-minute leap to the stars.
Bezos, who has sold $100m in tickets for future rides and aims to dominate the fledgling space tourism industry, acted as chauffeur for Shatner and his colleagues on this morning’s short drive from Blue Origin’s crew headquarters to the launchpad in Van Horn.
The 57-year-old billionaire, who was aboard the maiden crewed flight of his own spaceship in July, posed at the launch site for photographs and closed the hatch after the crew entered the capsule about an hour before the 9.49am CT (3.49pm BST) blast-off into the clear blue Texas sky.
“I guess that’s it, huh?” Shatner said, realizing he was about to experience real-life space travel after decades of fictional intergalactic voyaging.
Wednesday’s flight, named Mission NS-18, 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, and further delayed from its scheduled time of 8.30am by unspecified rocket issues.
Shatner captured the mantle of oldest space traveler from Wally Funk, an 82-year-old former test pilot who flew with Bezos. “Together we’ll cross new boundaries and set new records. Godspeed,” said Funk, who trained as a Nasa astronaut in the 1960s but never flew, in a pre-flight message read to the crew.
Jeff Bezos’s brother Mark, a third member of the July crew, was more succinct. “You lucky bastards,” he said.
The US space agency Nasa also tweeted a good luck message to Shatner. “We wish you all the best on your flight to space. You are, and always shall be, our friend,” it said.
After separation from its booster rocket, the New Shepard capsule reached a maximum altitude of 66.5 miles, beyond the 100km (62-mile) Kármán Line recognized internationally as the boundary of space, giving the crew three to four minutes of weightlessness.
After reentering the atmosphere, the capsule fell back to earth and made a gentle touchdown guided by three parachutes almost 10 minutes and 30 seconds after lift-off. New Shepard’s reusable booster landed again safely after almost eight minutes in flight.
Shatner’s three fellow passengers were 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.