William Shatner, who is 90 years old, became the oldest space traveler in history on Wednesday as he and three others flew in Blue Origin’s suborbital capsule, New Shepard.
Shatner is famed as the actor who gave life to the fictional Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek, the 1960s television show that spawned a science fiction franchise, and offered an optimistic vision of the near-future of humanity and it’s amazing expansion through the galaxy.
This flight is the latest landmark for the incredible growth in opportunities for private-sector astronauts and reusable space vehicles.
The New Shepard blasted off on its second crewed flight at 10:49 a.m. EST from a launch sight in Van Horn, Texas, in the west of the state. The flight lasted just 11 minutes, and reached an altitude of 66 miles.
After the New Shepard had returned safely, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos opened the capsule hatch and said, “Hello astronauts, welcome to Earth!”
The Oldest Astronaut
Shatner received most of the media attention, given the resonance of Star Trek. Each episode of the original series began with a voice-over in which Shatner announced that the crew of the Enterprise. They planned to “boldly go where no man has gone before.” The language was later revised to the gender neutral “where no one has gone before.”
In this case, no one 90 has gone here before. The vehicle William Shatner rode on is named after Alan Shepard, who became the first American in space in May 1961. Alan Shepard was 37 years old at the time. The distance between Shepard’s 37 and Shatner’s 90 is an impressive mark of the difference between the early era of space flight and its present.
For the last three months the title “oldest astronaut in history” belonged to Wally Funk, who flew on the first crewed flight of New Shepard in July. Funk, who is 82, was part of a group of 13 women in the 1960s who underwent astronaut training alongside the men. Only the men of that era were actually assigned to space missions.
Every Astronaut Has a Story
The new holder of the oldest-astronaut title, William Shatner, had some expressive words about the experience of space flight once he had returned safely to Earth Wednesday. He said, “It’s extraordinary, extraordinary. I hope I can maintain what I feel now. I don’t want to lose it. It’s so much larger than me and life.”
But each of the newly minted astronauts has a fascinating story. The flight included Audrey Powers, a vice president of Blue Origin; Chris Boshuizen, co-founder of an Earth-imagining satellite company, and Glen de Vries, an executive with Dassault Systèmes, a healthcare software company.
Powers, vice president of mission and flight operations at Blue Origin, is the first company employee to take this suborbital ride. The company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, took the trip in July, on the same flight as Funk.
Boshuizen, an Australian engineer, has a long history with space travel, although until now it has been a ground-based history. He worked for years at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. One of his projects there was building an early model of a low-cost lunar lander.
Glen de Vries and John Glenn
Glen de Vries has been a pioneer in medical software. In 1999 he co-founded Medidata Solutions, which became the world’s most used clinical research platform before it was purchased by Dassault.
Of this flight, de Vries said: “Playing a part in advancing the space industry and one day making those resources and that understanding [created by space flight] available to everyone, is an incredible opportunity.”
Blue Origin will be following the New Shepard rocket with an improved vehicle, the New Glenn, which it expects to roll out next year. That will initiate the company’s orbital flights. That name honors John Glenn, America’s second astronaut in space and the first in orbit. That occurred on February 20, 1962.
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