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'Star Trek's' William Shatner returns to Earth after Blue Origin flight

Samantha Masunaga, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

"I am overwhelmed," Shatner said.

He breaks the Guinness World Record for oldest person to fly to space, which was set this summer by Wally Funk, an aviation pioneer.

Funk flew at the age of 82 on Blue Origin's first crewed flight to suborbital space, which also carried Bezos, his brother Mark and Oliver Daemen, the son of a Dutch private equity executive and Blue Origin's first paying customer.

Before Wednesday's liftoff, the Blue Origin capsule communicator read out messages from that first crew to the individuals strapped into the spacecraft.

"I hope this flight will be the most fantastic experience of your life as it was mine," Funk said in her message.

Funk's July flight came about a week after British billionaire Richard Branson flew to suborbital space on his company Virgin Galactic's space plane, sparking criticism that the space tourism missions by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic were exclusive joy rides for the ultrawealthy.

The companies have touted the opportunity for research to be done in suborbital space.

Critics say the billionaires should use their wealth to improve life on Earth, rather than rocketing themselves to suborbital space.

 

Analysts say the suborbital space tourism market is unlikely to drastically decrease its customer prices anytime soon. Virgin Galactic, for example, recently reopened its ticket sales for $450,000 a seat. And as the market grows, high-profile customers such as Shatner are key to attracting new customers, said Phil Smith, senior space analyst at space analytics and engineering firm BryceTech.

"That cool factor is going to help generate a buzz," he said. "William Shatner has been in our living rooms and theaters for so long, and he's familiar to folks. (His character) represents to a lot of people a hopeful message about our future in space."

As captain of the Starship Enterprise, Kirk and his crew traveled the universe, explored space — the final frontier — and engaged in space diplomacy as well as battles.

Today, Shatner is the host and executive producer of the History Channel show "The UnXplained," which is from the producers of "Ancient Aliens" and delves into a variety of mysterious topics, including Bigfoot, plane vanishings and the moon.

Wednesday's launch comes as 21 current and former Blue Origin employees published a recent letter accusing the company of fostering a sexist and toxic work environment that prioritized speed and cost reduction over quality. In a statement to the site that hosted the letter, Blue Origin said it had "no tolerance" for discrimination or harassment and stands by its safety record.

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