He’s boldly going where Jeff Bezos has gone before.
William Shatner, known best from his years as the U.S.S. Enterprise’s Captain James T. Kirk in the “Star Trek” TV and film series, will launch to the edge of space this month aboard New Shepard. That is the tourist rocket built by Blue Origin, the private space company owned by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.
“So now I can say something. Yes, it’s true; I’m going to be a ‘rocket man!’,” Mr. Shatner wrote on Twitter about the news.
The flight is scheduled for Oct. 12, and Mr. Shatner will be joined by two other paying customers: Chris Boshuizen, a co-founder of the satellite imagery firm Planet Labs, and Glen de Vries, a co-founder of the clinical research software Medidata. The mission’s fourth passenger will be Audrey Powers, a Blue Origin vice president.
The company launched its first crew of passengers to space in July. The crew for that mission included Mr. Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, Wally Funk, 82, a pilot who was denied a chance to become an astronaut in the 1960s because of her sex, and an 18-year-old Dutch student. Ms. Funk, 82, currently holds the record as oldest passenger to space.
From Blue Origin’s pad in West Texas, the 16-story-tall rocket will launch to an altitude of roughly 63 miles and release its gumdrop-shaped crew capsule. Passengers experience about four minutes of weightlessness in microgravity. The New Shepard booster will return to Earth for a vertical landing a few miles from where it launched, while the crew capsule will fall back minutes later under a set of parachutes.
The flight will not reach orbit, which requires a much more powerful rocket lifting a spacecraft to a much higher altitude.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle is the centerpiece of its space tourism business, and Mr. Bezos has said it has over $100 million worth of tickets booked already. The company hasn’t disclosed ticket prices, booking the seats privately instead. Virgin Galactic, the company’s rival in space tourism, sells seats aboard its suborbital space plane starting at $450,000.
The mission will come during a hectic time for Blue Origin. Last week, 21 current and former employees said in an essay that the company was rife with sexism and dismissive of employees who spoke up on issues of safety concerning the New Shepard rocket. Blue Origin disputed the allegations, saying the company had an internal hotline for sexual harassment complaints and that New Shepard was the “safest space vehicle ever designed or built.”
Mr. de Vries, one of the passengers who will join Mr. Shatner atop New Shepard, said last week that he wasn’t worried about the contents of the essay. “I am confident in Blue Origin’s safety program, spacecraft, and track record, and certainly wouldn’t be flying with them if I wasn’t,” he said last week.
The company has other challenges, including sparring with NASA in federal court after losing a major contract to SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk, to build a lander to return astronauts to the moon. Development of an engine that will power bigger rockets, including one that was built by the Boeing-Lockheed Martin venture United Launch Alliance, is roughly a year behind schedule.
New Shepard is one of a handful of spacecraft offering rides to space for wealthy passengers in the emerging space tourism industry. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, developed primarily to fly government astronauts to the International Space Station, flew its first private crew of tourists in September and has more private missions lined up for next year. Virgin Galactic, which flew its founder, Richard Branson, and other passengers to space in July, plans to open its commercial space tourism business next year, chipping away at a backlog of some 600 ticket holders. Its next flight, with Italian Air Force officers and researchers aboard, is expected to occur this month.