WASHINGTON — Blue Origin confirmed Oct. 4 that William Shatner, the actor best known at Capt. James T. Kirk from the original “Star Trek” TV series and movies, will fly on the company’s next New Shepard suborbital flight this month.
Shatner will join Audrey Powers, vice president of mission and flight operations at Blue Origin, on the Oct. 12 flight from the company’s Launch Site One in West Texas. The company previously announced that Chris Boshuizen, co-founder of Planet, and Glen de Vries, co-founder of life sciences company Medidata Solutions, will be on the flight, lasting about 10 minutes and going to an altitude a little above 100 kilometers.
Shatner’s seat on the flight was first reported by the entertainment news publication TMZ Sept. 24. That report claimed that Shatner’s flight would be filmed for a documentary, although no deal had been reached with a network or streaming service to air the show.
While Shatner has had a number of roles in television shows and movies, and also recently released an album, he remains best known as the commander of the starship USS Enterprise in the original Star Trek series from 1966 to 1969, a role he reprised in seven movies from 1979 through 1994. “I’ve heard about space for a long time now. I’m taking the opportunity to see it for myself. What a miracle,” he said in a company statement.
Various reports over the years claimed Shatner was a customer of Virgin Galactic and its SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane, which he denied. In 2011, he said that Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, had offered him a ticket but wanted to him to pay full price, at the time $200,000. Shatner said he told Branson, “Hey, you pay me and I’ll go up. I’ll risk my life for a large sum of money.”
Blue Origin did not disclose if it was charging Shatner for the flight. At 90, Shatner would be the oldest person to go to space, breaking the record set on the previous New Shepard flight by 82-year-old Wally Funk, who was given a free flight on the vehicle by company founder Jeff Bezos.
Powers, the fourth person on the flight, has been at Blue Origin since 2013. She currently oversees all New Shepard flight operations, vehicle maintenance and support infrastructure. Trained as both an engineer and a lawyer, she previously was an International Space Station flight controller at NASA as well as Blue Origin’s deputy general counsel. Powers is also the chair of the board of directors of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, an industry group.
“I’m excited to continue writing Blue’s human spaceflight history,” she said in a statement. “As an engineer and lawyer with more than two decades of experience in the aerospace industry, I have great confidence in our New Shepard team and the vehicle we’ve developed.”
Those comments come just days after a group of 21 current and former company employees raised concerns about both the safety of the vehicle as well as a toxic workplace culture in general at Blue Origin. The group didn’t mention any specific safety issues with New Shepard, but one claimed the company was “lucky” not to have any problems yet. The Federal Aviation Administration, which licenses New Shepard flights, said it was reviewing the allegations.
In a series of tweets Oct. 2, Boshuizen expressed confidence in New Shepard. “Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of witnessing how Blue Origin rockets are made,” he wrote. He said he couldn’t discuss the details of what he saw, but “my mind was blown and I can say I’m in safe hands on my upcoming space flight.”