“Risk is our business,” James T. Kirk once said. “That’s what this starship is. That’s why we’re on it.”

- Advertisement -

More than half a century later, at the age of 90, the artist who has been staring and rising to the stars in dramatically different circumstances than his fictional counterpart is at the age of 90. Is. And in doing so, William Shatner is causing worlds to collide, or at least allowing parallel universes to coexist—the utopian spacefaring vision of “Star Trek” and the evolution of “space” into the American psyche, Fast commercial space.

When Shatner aboard Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin NS-18 in Texas on Wednesday morning, his one small step in the craft creates one of the ultimate crossover stories of our era.

advertisement

It’s about space and exploration, of course, and certainly about capitalism and billionaires and questions of economic equity. But it’s also about popular culture and marketing and entertainment and nostalgia and hope and manifest destiny, and, and, well, you get the idea.

“What will I see when I’m there?” Speaking to Anderson Cooper on CNN last week, Shatner expressed his surprise. An equally valid question is: what will we see when he is there?

- Advertisement -

It would be a complex mix of human dreams superimposed on technology and hope, vanity and cash, and the notion that space travel elevates us – all orchestrated under severe criticism by a company that some call decidedly non-utopian, Tech-Bro says. the way it operates.

Is all that and “Star Trek” a good fit?

One of the most diverse cast since its 1966 premiere with TV, “Trek” has evolved into a complex transmedia universe full of subtleties and traditions and rules.

Among them: Humans avoid killing each other. Money is generally outdated, as are hunger and poverty. Greed is meaningless. In other cultures, laissez-faire is the most sacred principle of all. And within the United Federation of Planets, the space travel of “Star Trek” is the coin of the United Nations, exploration, not supremacy, realm. In short, unlike a lot of humanity right now.

Man set foot on the moon for the first time 47 days after the final episode of the original series. Over the next half century, supported by a vocal fan base, “Star Trek” roared back for more and, in the process, paved the way for solidifying space travel as a perfect canvas for episodic storytelling. “Trek” remained one of the culture’s central vehicles for the future of space. Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura on the show, was a particularly tireless advocate, working with NASA to recruit Americans of color and women.

Vision has evolved but remains generally utopian, although two of the latest iterations, “Star Trek: Discovery” and “Star Trek: Picard”, have sunk deeper into darkness than their predecessors. However, in storytelling aside, there remained one constant: the notion that human space travel would become a vector of morality and goodness that lifted up rather than robbed the galaxy.

Which brings us to companies like Blue Origin, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic – efforts that build their brands not on countries but on corporations. They present a narrative that space travel is not only for scientists and diplomats, but for you and me as well. If, that is, you and I have a few hundred thousand dollars or more on hand for travel.

Many have protested the actions of billionaire space moguls, including the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Blue Origin’s troubles with corporate culture have been well-documented until recently.

But the motive of the founder of Amazon himself is unclear. However, it is clear that the popular culture of space travel has deeply influenced Bezos. A longtime “Trek” fan, he made a cameo in the 2016 film “Star Trek Beyond” as an alien Starfleet officer. And according to biographer Brad Stone, Bezos fleetingly considered calling Amazon “Mekitso.com” after Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s preferred command.

“The whole ethos of ‘Star Trek’ showed people with different skills, with different skills working together. We’re in some early moments like that,” says Space Foundation vice president Richard B. Cooper. Non-profit that advocates for the global space industry. “People can look at this environment and say, ‘Hey – I’m right there too’.”

Prohibitive costs aside (and that’s on the big side), Cooper has a point. While the likes of Shatner may not be “regular people,” the shift from the dominance of test pilots and scientists is on track with the populism of our era, where – it must be said – the accuracy of science is being called into question like never before. was not. And as Cooper explains, “it gives people hope.”

A story like that – hope, heroism, competitive dominance and an unwavering sense of potential that can sometimes overlap with testosterone – is powerful. At a time when NASA and nation-focused space travel lack a compelling Hollywood narrative, entrepreneurs and their marketers make the right move.

“American dominance in space, nobody cares. It’s Bezos who says, ‘We can’t live like this. We have to save the planet,'” says Mary-Jane Rubenstein, a professor of religion and science in society. at Wesleyan University.

“It’s the billionaires who have the utopian vision,” says Rubenstein, author of “Astrotopia: The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race.” “States can’t mobilize them. They don’t have a story.”

Should we even colonize space? Don’t we have enough to worry about here at home? Isn’t that more pressing problem people who can access cash?

And what if we encounter life that is not life as we know it, and damage it out of oblivion or greed? Not that it hasn’t happened countless times here on land, in a land that put a man on the moon, but still grappling with history grappling with horrors ranging from slave markets to smallpox blankets. These are just some of the questions that will climb and descend with Shatner on Wednesday.

Is this a stunt? Sure. Is this a genius marketing ploy? Absolutely. Is it cynical and self-conceited and designed purely to make more money and get more attention for the richest man in the world? You will have to decide this yourself.

——

Ted Anthony, director of new storytelling and newsroom innovation at The Associated Press, has been writing about American culture since 1990 and watching “Star Trek” since 1969. His younger son’s middle name is Kirk.