Van Horn, Texas — Hollywood captain Kirk, 90-year-old William Shatner blasted into space Wednesday at the convergence of science fiction and science reality, reaching the final frontier on a ship built by Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin company.
The “Star Trek” hero became the oldest person to ride a rocket, eclipsing the previous record — set by a passenger on a similar jaundice aboard the Bezos spacecraft in July — by eight years.
Dressed in a royal blue flight suit, Shatner was joined by three fellow passengers, four to five decades aboard, aboard the tiny, fully automated capsule for an up-and-down flight lasting only 10 minutes or more. Flying from far west Texas.
The spacecraft was set to an altitude of 66 miles (106 kilometers) at the edge of space, after which the capsule was set to parachute back to the desert floor.
Sci-fi fans rejoiced at the chance to see the man known as Captain James T. Kirk, the veteran of the Starship Enterprise, where no American TV star had gone before.
Shatner said before the countdown that he planned to spend his nearly three minutes of weightlessness gazing at Earth, his nose pressed against the capsule’s windows.
“The only thing I don’t want to see is a little gremlin looking back at me,” he joked, referring to the plot of his 1963 “Twilight Zone” episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”
Bezos is a huge “Star Trek” fan—the Amazon founder had a cameo as an alien in one of the later “Star Trek” movies—and Shatner frees up as his invited guest.
Given its inherent appeal to baby boomers, celebrity watchers and space enthusiasts, Blastoff brought invaluable star power to Bezos’s spacecraft company. Shatner starred in the TV original “Star Trek” from 1966 to 1969, When America Was Running to the Moon, and appeared in a series of “Star Trek” movies.
Bezos himself carried all four to the pad, accompanied them to the above-ground platform and closed the hatch after boarding the 60-foot rocket. The capsule, New Shepard, was named after Alan Shepard, the first American to go into space.
“Seeing Captain James Tiberius Kirk going into space is a pinch moment for all of us,” Blue Origin launch commentator Jackie Cortes said ahead of liftoff. She said that she, like many others, was attracted to the space business from shows like “Star Trek.”
The flight comes as the space tourism industry finally takes off, with passengers aboard ships built and operated by some of the world’s richest men.
Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic led the way in July aboard his own rocket ship into space, followed by Bezos on his maiden flight nine days later with the crew of Blue Origin. Elon Musk’s SpaceX made its first private trip in mid-September, though without Musk.
Last week, the Russians launched an actor and a film director to the International Space Station for a film-making project.
“We’re just at the beginning, but how miraculous that start is. How extraordinary to be a part of that beginning,” Shatner said in a Blue Origin video posted on the eve of his flight.
Shatner worked with Audrey Powers, a Blue Origin vice president and former space station flight controller for NASA, and two paying clients: Chris Boshuizen, a former NASA engineer who co-founded a satellite company, and Glen de Vries of a 3D software company. Blue Origin would not disclose the price of their tickets.
Shatner milked his upcoming flight for laughs at New York Comic Con last week. The actor said that Blue Origin informed him that he would be the oldest person in space.
“I don’t want to be known as the oldest man in space. I’m the bloody Captain Kirk!” They said. Then he stammered in a fake-panic voice: “Captain Kirk, going where there’s no man… What am I going to? Where am I going?”
He confessed: “I’m Captain Kirk and I’m scared.”
Jokes aside, Blue Origin said that Shatner and the rest of the crew meet all medical and physical requirements, including the ability to perform multiple flights up and down the launch tower. As the capsule returns to Earth, the passengers are subjected to approximately 6 G, or six times the force of Earth’s gravity.
“Shooting in space is the worst thing I think I’ve ever seen,” said Joseph Barra, a bartender from Los Angeles who helped round out Blue Origin’s launch week festivities. “William Shatner is setting the bar for what a 90-year-old can do.”
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Dunn reported from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Associated Press video journalist Cody Jackson contributed to this story.