Captain Kirk is going to space – for real this time. Actor William Shatner, who played James T. Kirk on Star Trek, is set to take a trip aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket on 12 October. At 90 years old, he will be the oldest person ever to visit space, taking the title from aviator Wally Funk, who trained to be an astronaut in the 1960s, but didn’t get to go to space until July 2021.
Funk was a passenger aboard the first crewed New Shepard flight, along with the company’s billionaire founder Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, whose financier father bought his seat as the company’s first paying passenger. The 12 October launch will be the second to carry passengers.
Shatner will be joined by three other crew members: Blue Origin executive Audrey Powers, satellite entrepreneur and former NASA engineer Chris Boshuizen and Glen de Vries, a private pilot and the co-founder of the software company Medidata.
The flight itself will be similar to the first one, taking the passengers to an altitude of about 100 kilometres over the course of about 11 minutes. The craft is autonomous, so the crew members don’t have to steer it through the flight – they can just sit back and enjoy the ride.
This announcement comes on the heels of an open letter published by 21 current and former Blue Origin employees alleging that the company fosters a work environment “rife with sexism” in which professional disagreement is “actively stifled”. The letter also expressed concerns about the safety of the New Shepard rocket: “Some of us felt that with the resources and staff available, leadership’s race to launch at such a breakneck speed was seriously compromising flight safety.”
Blue Origin has denied the claims in the letter. In a statement, it said: “Blue Origin has no tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind. We provide numerous avenues for employees, including a 24/7 anonymous hotline, and will promptly investigate any new claims of misconduct. We stand by our safety record and believe that New Shepard is the safest space vehicle ever designed or built.”
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