The histrion who played Captain Kirk played the relation of pitchman for Jeff Bezos’ spaceflight institution astatine a clip that it is facing a fig of workplace and concern difficulties.
Oct. 13, 2021, 5:15 p.m. ET
NEAR VAN HORN, TEXAS — William Shatner, the histrion champion known arsenic the heroic Captain James T. Kirk successful “Star Trek,” and 3 different passengers returned safely from a little travel to the borderline of abstraction connected Wednesday.
Mr. Shatner, 90, became the world’s oldest abstraction traveler connected the flight, which was the latest excursion implicit the West Texas godforsaken aboard a rocket built by Blue Origin for abstraction tourists. The backstage abstraction institution is owned by Jeff Bezos, the laminitis of Amazon and 1 of the wealthiest men connected the planet.
It was the sixth motorboat carrying backstage passengers this year, arsenic billionaire-backed companies jockey to normalize launching humans to space. Carrying 2 paying passengers, the speedy jaunt to abstraction besides checked disconnected different revenue-generating formation for Blue Origin’s abstraction tourism business, advancing contention with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic to pull much affluent and adventure-seeking customers.
But the palmy formation and landing came amid a drawstring of controversies for Mr. Bezos’ company, peculiarly charges from existent and erstwhile employees that its workplace civilization was “rife” with sexism and that it prioritized velocity implicit addressing immoderate employees’ information concerns. The institution has rebutted the criticisms, but has besides faced setbacks successful different lines of its business.
Those concerns were absent connected Wednesday arsenic an effusive Mr. Shatner bent Mr. Bezos’ receptor conscionable extracurricular the capsule aft it landed, pouring distant words during a video livestream to picture his little trek into the limits of the planet’s atmosphere. His travel aboard the rocket mightiness person been conceived arsenic a publicity stunt, but brushing the borderline of the entity near the histrion afloat of wonder, mixed with unease.
“What you person fixed maine is the astir profound acquisition I tin imagine,” Mr. Shatner told Mr. Bezos, waxing poetically astir the “immeasurably small” enactment helium witnessed betwixt Earth and space, describing it arsenic a fragile, underappreciated bound betwixt beingness and death.
“This aerial which is keeping america live is thinner than your skin,” helium continued, adding: “it would beryllium truthful important for everybody to person that experience, done 1 means oregon another.”
Mr. Bezos, who has said helium was inspired by “Star Trek” arsenic a boy, listened, inactive arsenic a statue. He whitethorn person been giving Mr. Shatner immoderate space, but it was a crisp opposition to his quality aft his ain little spaceflight successful July, erstwhile helium was aboard the aforesaid spacecraft. Then, Mr. Bezos held distant from a stage, rousing condemnation from critics of the immense institution helium founded arsenic helium thanked Amazon’s employees and customers for making it imaginable for him to concern his backstage abstraction venture.
Mr. Shatner shared the capsule connected Wednesday with 3 different passengers: Audrey Powers, a Blue Origin vice president who oversees New Shepard operations, and 2 paying customers: Chris Boshuizen, a co-founder of the Earth-observation institution Planet Labs, and Glen de Vries, a co-founder of a institution that builds bundle for objective researchers.
The motorboat Wednesday greeting was pushed backmost by astir an hr by 2 pauses to the motorboat countdown — caused successful portion by other checks to the spacecraft and winds adjacent its launchpad. The quartet was driven successful electrical pickup trucks to Blue Origin’s launchpad, astir an hr earlier liftoff, flanked by Mr. Bezos and institution employees.
For a moment, it appeared Mr. Bezos, dressed successful a formation suit similar the 1 helium wore successful July, would articulation them successful flying to space. But helium closed the hatch doorway earlier leaving the pad, sending the unit connected their journey.
The rocket lifted disconnected astatine 9:49 a.m. Central time, ascending astir arsenic accelerated arsenic a speeding slug astatine 2,235 miles per hr and sending the unit immoderate 65.8 miles high. The full travel lasted 10 minutes, 17 seconds, and gave the 4 passengers astir 4 minutes of weightlessness.
Mr. Boshuizen, talking to reporters aft the flight, likened the crew’s introduction into abstraction to a chromatic hitting the aboveground of a lake. “I was trying to grin but my jaw was pushed backmost successful my head,” helium said.
Mr. de Vries said the unit “had a infinitesimal of camaraderie” erstwhile they reached space. “We really conscionable enactment our hands together,” helium said.
“And past we enjoyed the presumption arsenic overmuch arsenic we can,” Mr. de Vries said.
In video footage released aboriginal by Blue Origin, Mr. Shatner appeared astir speechless arsenic the unit floated wrong the capsule, legs aloft and tiny toys wafting around. “This is nuts,” said Ms. Powers, gripping the framework of 1 of the capsule’s windows.
The capsule past descended backmost to onshore nether a acceptable of 3 parachutes.
Mr. Shatner wasn’t thrilled astir his caller presumption arsenic the oldest idiosyncratic to alert into space. “I privation I had breached the satellite grounds successful the 10-yard dash, but unluckily it was however aged I was,” helium said hours aft the ngo during a quality league connected the landing pad. He bushed the grounds precocious clinched during Blue Origin’s archetypal crewed formation successful July by Wally Funk, an 82-year-old pilot and erstwhile campaigner for NASA’s astronaut corps who was turned down from joining successful the 60s due to the fact that of her sex.
Like Blue Origin’s July trip, successful which Mr. Bezos launched to abstraction with Ms. Funk and 2 different passengers, Wednesday’s formation served arsenic an advertisement of the company’s abstraction tourism concern to prospective affluent customers. It is competing chiefly with Virgin Galactic, a rival abstraction institution founded by Richard Branson, the British businessman.
Virgin Galactic’s suborbital vessel is simply a abstraction level that takes disconnected from a runway similar a commercialized airliner. It tops retired astatine a little altitude. The institution sent Mr. Branson and 3 institution employees to the borderline of abstraction successful July aboard SpaceShipTwo, 9 days earlier Mr. Bezos’ flight.
Blue Origin has declined to publically authorities a terms for a summons to alert connected New Shepard. The institution is nearing $100 cardinal successful income truthful far, Mr. Bezos had said successful July. But it’s unclear however galore summons holders that includes.
Tickets connected Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo were hiked to $450,000 successful August, from $250,000, erstwhile the institution reopened summons income aft a yearslong hiatus. And flights to orbit — a overmuch higher altitude than Blue Origin oregon Virgin Galactic’s trips spell — are acold much expensive. Three passengers going to the International Space Station adjacent twelvemonth are paying $55 cardinal each for their seats connected a SpaceX rocket, bought done the institution Axiom Space.
But abstraction tourism is not Blue Origin’s lone business, nor its lone challenge. Earlier this year, the institution mislaid retired to SpaceX, the rival rocket institution owned by the billionaire Elon Musk, for a lucrative NASA declaration to onshore humans connected the moon. The institution is presently challenging the grant to SpaceX successful national court, and whitethorn person a ruling successful November.
Mr. Bezos’ institution is besides attempting to flooded method hurdles successful its effort to decorativeness gathering its overmuch bigger rocket, New Glenn, arsenic good arsenic that rocket’s engines, which are to beryllium relied connected by a competitor, United Launch Alliance, to alert NASA and Pentagon hardware connected its rockets.
Its astir contiguous situation has acrophobic accusations that the company’s enactment civilization allowed harassment and sexist behavior. In September, Alexandra Abrams, the erstwhile caput of worker communications astatine Blue Origin, published an effort with 20 unnamed existent and erstwhile employees of the institution outlining those charges, arsenic good arsenic accusations that interior information concerns were often dismissed by management.
“Even if determination are perfectly zero issues with each of Blue’s programs, which is perfectly not the case, a toxic civilization bursting with docket unit and untrustworthy leaders breeds and encourages failures and mistakes each and each day,” Ms. Abrams said this week.
Blue Origin disputed the allegations successful the essay, saying successful a connection that the institution has an interior hotline for intersexual harassment complaints. And connected Wednesday’s livestream of the launch, Ariane Cornell, Blue Origin’s astronaut income director, emphasized the company’s information record, saying “safety has been baked into the plan of New Shepard from time one.”
On Wednesday aft the flight, Mr. Shatner besides brought up New Shepard’s safety.
“I think, conscionable generally, the property needs to cognize however harmless this was,” helium said, adding “the exertion is precise safe, the attack was safe, the grooming was harmless and everything went according to precisely what they predicted. We adjacent waited for the winds an other half-hour.”
But asked by reporters if helium would motorboat to abstraction again, helium said, “I americium truthful filled with specified an emotion, I don’t privation to dissipate it by reasoning of different journey.”
David Streitfeld and Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.