Review: Shatner in Space
by Jeff Foust
|But of all the personalities who flew to space last year, none was better suited for a TV special than actor William Shatner.|
One of the questions many had is how his trip on New Shepard came together given Shatner had been dismissive of flying in space before, particularly when linked to potential flights on SpaceShipTwo. The show doesn’t answer all of those questions but suggests the trip (and the show itself) had been in development for a long time: one of the first scenes takes place two years earlier, when Shatner visits Blue Origin’s headquarters and is given a tour by Jeff Bezos, who at the end asks if Shatner would like to go to space.
The show moves ahead to the weeks leading up to the flight, then the training and final preparations in West Texas where Shatner meets the other three people flying on the mission and is reunited with Bezos, who is a regular presence during the days leading up to the launch. He is continually reminded of his Star Trek legacy: one of his fellow crewmembers, Glen de Vries (who sadly died a few weeks after the flight in a plane crash), shows Shatner a photo of him dressed up in a Star Trek uniform for Halloween a couple years earlier, while Bezos asks Shatner to take with him paper cutouts of Star Trek communicators and tricorders that Bezos made and played with as a kid.
There is not a lot of drama in the show itself. When winds force a one-day delay in the flight, Shatner briefly ponders if the universe is trying to tell him that he shouldn’t go, but the moment passes. There’s a brief hold in the countdown because of a software issue that threatens a scrub (“You’ve got to be [bleeping] kidding,” Shatner says in the capsule) but that, too, quickly passes. There’s some footage inside the capsule during the flight itself, although not much more than what was shown during and immediately after the flight.
While Shatner is the center of attention, he is also somewhat alone: he reveals at one point that his family stayed home, even as family members of the other crewmembers say their goodbyes before launch (in a scene early in the show, he reveals his spaceflight plans to his family, who are dumbfounded and skeptical.) His closest confidante is Bezos, which may be why it’s to Bezos that Shatner offers his now-famous description of the experience immediately after landing (see “Black ugliness and the covering of blue: William Shatner’s suborbital flight to ‘death’”, The Space Review, October 18, 2021). An epilogue nearly a month after the flight suggests the spaceflight experience had a lasting impact on him.
With a regular series of New Shepard flights expected this year, each individual flight will be less newsworthy, at least in the broader media, barring flights by other celebrities or other unique individuals. (One such example is Justin Sun, the cryptocurrency entrepreneur who revealed last month he was the high bidder in the auction for a seat on the first New Shepard flight but wasn’t able to go; he said he will instead go to space late this year on a dedicated New Shepard flight with five “space warriors” he will select in the coming months.) It would be hard in any respect to top the scenes of Captain Kirk getting to go to space at long last.
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