On Wednesday, William Shatner, the actor best known for his portrayal of the heroic Captain James T. Kirk in the television series “Star Trek,” and three other passengers returned safely from a short journey to the edge of space.
As a result of his participation in the trip, Mr. Shatner, 90, became the world’s oldest space traveler. The flight, which took place over the West Texas desert on a rocket developed by Blue Origin specifically for space travelers, was the latest excursion over the desert. Jeff Bezos, the creator of Amazon and one of the world’s richest men, owns a private space business that will launch humans into orbit.
This was the sixth private passenger launch this year, as billionaire-backed businesses compete to become the standard when it comes to sending people into space. The short trip to space, which carried two paying passengers, also marked another revenue-generating mission for Blue Origin’s space tourism company, increasing rivalry with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic in the race to recruit more affluent and adventure-seeking clients.
However, the successful flight and landing occurred amid a slew of problems for Mr. Bezos’ business, including allegations from current and former workers that the company’s working culture was “rife” with misogyny and that it placed a high priority on speed above the safety of certain employees. Although the firm has responded to the complaints, it has also experienced difficulties in other areas of its operations.
They were missing on Wednesday, when an ecstatic Mr. Shatner leaned up close to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ ear just outside the capsule after it had landed and began spewing out words during a video broadcast to narrate his short journey to the planet’s outer atmosphere. Although his journey on the rocket was intended as a publicity ploy, the actor was filled with awe and apprehension as the rocket approached the edge of the sky and brushed against it.
Mr. Bezos, who has said that he was influenced by “Star Trek” as a child, sat motionless as a statue and listened intently. He may have been giving Mr. Shatner some breathing room, but his look after his own short trip in July, when he was onboard the same spaceship, was a stark contrast to that of Mr. Shatner. In the next moments, Mr. Bezos spoke from a platform, drawing sharp criticism from detractors of the massive corporation he created as he praised Amazon’s workers and customers for making it possible for him to fund his private space endeavor.
Among those aboard the capsule on Wednesday were Audrey Powers, a Blue Origin vice president who oversees New Shepard operations, and two paying customers, Chris Boshuizen, a co-founder of the Earth-observation company Planet Labs, and Glen de Vries, a co-founder of a company that develops software for clinical researchers. Mr. Shatner was the only actor on board.
After two pauses in the launch countdown, which were prompted in part by further inspections to the spacecraft and strong winds near the launchpad, Wednesday’s launch was delayed by about an hour and a half. The four was transported to Blue Origin’s launchpad in electric pickup trucks about an hour before liftoff, where they were greeted by Mr. Bezos and other business representatives.
For a brief time, it seemed as if Mr. Bezos, clad in a flight suit similar to the one he wore in July, might accompany them on their journey to the International Space Station. He did, however, shut the hatch door before departing the pad, allowing the crew to continue their trip.
When the rocket took off at 9:49 a.m. Central time, it was rising almost as quickly as a speeding bullet at 2,235 miles per hour, propelling the crew up to a height of about 65.8 miles. The whole journey took 10 minutes and 17 seconds and provided the four travelers with about four minutes of weightlessness.