William Shatner goes to space on Blue Origin mission

By Jackie Wattles, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes, Melissa Mahtani and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 2231 GMT (0631 HKT) October 13, 2021
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9:28 a.m. ET, October 13, 2021

The looming mystery of Blue Origin's ticket prices

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

Seats in the New Shepard crew capsule.
Seats in the New Shepard crew capsule.

Blue Origin has declined to say how much Chris Boshuizen and Glen de Vries — the only paying customers on this flight — shelled out.

Unlike its chief competitor, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, which sells tickets for $450,000 a pop, Blue Origin has not sold tickets to the general public yet, nor has it said how much it will sell seats for.

Blue Origin has asked people interested in tickets to contact them directly. So presumably, each seat is negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

So far, the only price point Blue Origin has made public was the $28 million that an as-yet-unnamed auction winner put up.

Other than that, all we know is that the company says the auction gave a strong indication that there are plenty of people anxious to fly, as 7,600 people from 159 countries registered to bid. And Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos said in July that Blue Origin had already sold $100 million worth of tickets to an unknown number of people.

The bottom line: We still have no idea how much most people have paid — nor are willing to pay — for the chance to spend 10 minutes aboard Blue Origin's New Shepherd rocket as it blasts into space.

9:26 a.m. ET, October 13, 2021

Is it safe to send to a 90-year-old to space?

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

Spaceflight is inherently risky. Drumming up enough speed and power to defy gravity requires rockets to use powerful, controlled explosions and complex technology that always involves some uncertainties. 

"I'm really quite apprehensive," William Shatner told CNN's Anderson Cooper last week ahead of his trip to space. "There's an element of chance here."

From a physiological perspective, however, Shatner's age — 90 — shouldn't be an issue, according to Dorit Donoviel, the executive director of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH), a Baylor College of Medicine-led research group that partners with NASA.

Donoviel pointed to a series of studies in which people with pre-existing medical conditions, including seniors with heart conditions, who experienced up to 6Gs in a spinning centrifuge to simulate the crushing forces the body is put through during spaceflight.

“They were fine, they were perfectly fine,” Donoviel said. “The only thing — medical condition — that was of concern when they did those studies was really anxiety and definitely claustrophobia.”

Blue Origin passengers could experience up to 5.5Gs, which can make it difficult to breathe or move their hands and arms. But they won’t have the stress of piloting New Shepard, which is fully autonomous, so they can basically just sit there and wait out the most stressful portions of the journey. 

One thing that is absolutely crucial for them, however, is to get back in their seats as soon as mission control warns the passengers that the capsule’s three minutes of weightlessness are about to be over. As the spacecraft begins falling back to Earth and the crushing G-forces return, passengers who aren’t strapped into their seats and oriented in the proper position could risk injury.

“If they're facing the [wrong] way, the G-forces could pull all the blood away from the head and go down to the feet, in which case the person would pass out,” Donoviel said.

9:25 a.m. ET, October 13, 2021

Blue Origin crew arrives at launch site

(Blue Origin)
(Blue Origin)

The Blue Origin crew is arriving at the launch facilities in West Texas.

William Shatner — who gained international fame playing the iconic role of Captain Kirk on "Star Trek" — is set to become the oldest person ever to travel to space. 

He'll be blasting off onboard a New Shepard spacecraft — the one developed by Bezos' rocket company, Blue Origin — alongside three crewmates: Chris Boshuizen, a co-founder of satellite company Planet Labs, and software executive Glen de Vries, who'll both be paying customers, and Audrey Powers, Blue Origin's vice president of mission and flight operations.

CNN's Jackie Wattles contributed reporting to this post. 

10:19 a.m. ET, October 13, 2021

Blue Origin's workplace culture allegations

From CNN Business' Jackie Wattles

The entrance to Blue Origin's Launch Site One outside of Van Horn, Texas on October 11, 2021.
The entrance to Blue Origin's Launch Site One outside of Van Horn, Texas on October 11, 2021. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images)

This flight today comes as Blue Origin is facing a wave of scrutiny.

Last week, a group of 21 current and former employees at Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Jeff Bezos, co-signed an essay speaking out against what they describe as a toxic workplace where "professional dissent" is "actively stifled," and certain male leaders routinely engage in sexist behavior.

And, though Blue Origin describes itself as a company content with slow, methodical rocket development that covets safety over all else, the essay alleged that the company has adopted a brutal work culture that makes it impossible for engineers to guarantee the safety of the rocket.

Many of the essay's signatories said they wouldn't fly on the vehicle.

One senior engineer also resigned in April 2020 to protest a "'schedule-biased drive [that] is incapable of producing safe systems engineering."

"In this environment, safety is not an option, even if we repeatedly state that it is our highest priority," the resignation letter, obtained by CNN Business, reads.

Blue Origin has not publicly identified any technological or mechanical issues with test flights — of which there have been more than a dozen — or the crewed flight of New Shepard in July, which flew Bezos.

The company has also consistently stated that safety is the "main priority" on every mission. Blue Origin's senior director of New Shepard safety, Andrew Lake, also said during a taped interview that aired during the company's livestream Wednesday morning that "a lot of people" at Blue Origin would "be excited to fly on New Shepard," including himself.

Alexandra Abrams — the former head of Blue's department of employee communications before she was fired in 2019 — was the sole signatory of the essay to go on the record. (The others declined to be publicly identified for fear of professional retribution.)

Among the other controversies following Blue Origin:

  • A wave of exits among senior-level staff, as reported by CNBC
  • A contentious lawsuit in which Blue Origin is battling NASA's decision to hand a lunar lander contract to SpaceX
  • A report from The Verge revealing that NASA considered Blue Origin's lunar lander bid decisions "ill-conceived" and referred to the company's bid as a bad bet.
  • NASA lawyers also alleged the Blue Origin's attempts to protest the lunar lander decision show the company "seeks to prioritize its own fortunes over that of NASA, the United States, and every person alive today who dreams to see humans exploring worlds beyond our own."
9:05 a.m. ET, October 13, 2021

How William Shatner will make history today

At 90, William Shatner is poised to become the oldest person to take a sub-orbital space flight.

In July at age 82, aviator Wally Funk broke the late Senator John Glenn's previous record as the oldest person to reach space. Funk was a passenger aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle with the company's first crewed space flight.

"They said 'all right, how would you like to go up. You'll be the oldest guy in space,'" Shatner recalled to a crowd gathered at New York Comic Con last week about making the trip. "I don't want to be known as the oldest guy. I'm bloody Captain Kirk!"

Not one to retire, Shatner explained his philosophy on living to CNN in 2002.

“We're all terminal. And whether you live past this moment of this interview, for another -- or for this moment, or you die in 50 years, it really is just a moment,” he said. “Which brings us to the idea that living with the idea -- with the concept that death is around the corner for every one of us should lead us to more sympathy and empathy between people.” 

Given our short time here, he added, there was no reason to live with anger. 

8:53 a.m. ET, October 13, 2021

Here's what William Shatner is most looking forward to about going to space 

From left to right: Audrey Powers, William Shatner, Chris Boshuizen, Glen de Vries.
From left to right: Audrey Powers, William Shatner, Chris Boshuizen, Glen de Vries.

Actor William Shatner has been pretending to live in space since the 1960s, when he played Captain James T. Kirk on the hit television series "Star Trek." He went on to star in seven "Star Trek" films.

Now the 90-year-old is going to get the chance to see space for himself on a Blue Origin flight.

Shatner and three others will be lifting off from a remote stretch of West Texas today, less than three months after the company's first crewed launch. The crew will enjoy about 4 minutes of weightlessness during an 11-minute suborbital trip to space.

The "Star Trek" actor spoke to CNN's Anderson Cooper last week about how he is preparing for the trip and what he's looking forward to the most about the experience.

"I am looking forward to the whole thing," Shatner said, noting that he's attended some trainings for the flight and has been impressed by the feeling of weightinesses.

"Imagine being weightless and staring into that blackness and seeing the Earth and —that is what I want to absorb and see it first hand," he told Cooper.

"I want to press my nose up against the plastic window. What I don't want to see is somebody else out there looking back at me," he said.

Watch the interview:

CNN's Kristin Fisher, Jackie Wattles, and Chloe Melas contributed reporting to this post.

8:52 a.m. ET, October 13, 2021

Shatner will become the oldest person to fly in space

William Shatner chats with fellow NS-18 crew members Chris Boshuizen (right) and Glen de Vries (across) on October 9.
William Shatner chats with fellow NS-18 crew members Chris Boshuizen (right) and Glen de Vries (across) on October 9.

At age 90, William Shatner will become the oldest person to have flown in space with his Blue Origin flight.

In announcing his flight to space, he tweeted, "So now I can say something. Yes, it’s true; I’m going to be a 'rocket man!'"

Shatner played Captain James T. Kirk on the hit television series "Star Trek," and went on to star in seven "Star Trek" films.

While this will be Shatner's actual first mission to space, he won't be too far from home.

He told CNN's Anderson Cooper he will be carrying a few mementos from friends and family.

Shatner said he is "a little bit nervous" about the flight.

"There's an element of chance here ... This isn't like going on one of the various life-ending possibilities that I've done all my life. I've been on things that are like 'oh, wow that makes me nervous.' This makes me more nervous," he said.

In the end, Shatner is mostly curious about what he'll see out in space.

"What will I see?" Shatner told Cooper. "Because not only will I look at the majesty of space and the oasis of Earth, but isn't there a possibility that things fly by as we've seen on cameras? What's the explanation of that?"

8:29 a.m. ET, October 13, 2021

"Star Trek" actor William Shatner will be launched into space today

From CNN's Chloe Melas

Left to right: Chris Boshuizen, William Shatner, Audrey Powers, Glen de Vries.
Left to right: Chris Boshuizen, William Shatner, Audrey Powers, Glen de Vries.

"Star Trek" actor William Shatner, 90, will be launched into space today on a Blue Origin flight alongside Audrey Powers, Blue Origin's vice president of mission and flight operations, Chris Boshuizen and Glen de Vries.

"I've heard about space for a long time now," Shatner said in a press release. "I'm taking the opportunity to see it for myself. What a miracle."

And it has been a long time coming.

Shatner has been pretending to live in space since the 1960s, when he played Captain James T. Kirk on the hit television series "Star Trek." He went on to star in seven "Star Trek" films.

He's also the host and executive producer of "The UnXplained" on The History Channel, which explores the inexplicable, including aliens.