When ‘Star Trek’ first aired in 1966, Americans had yet to set foot on the Moon and the idea that humans could one day live and work in space still seemed remote. On Tuesday, William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk on the iconic series, will be the first actor in the cast to make the journey to the “last frontier” in real life. He and three other passengers will board a Blue Origin rocket from West Texas for what will be the billionaire’s second manned suborbital flight Jeff Bezos, in an event that will fascinate fans of the pop culture phenomenon that inspired generations of astronauts.
“I plan to keep my nose close to the window. The only thing I don’t want to see is a gremlin looking at me from the other side, “joked the Canadian actor in a video posted by Blue Origin. At 90 years old, Shatner will become the oldest person to reach space.
Blue Origin’s decision to invite one of the most iconic space travelers science fiction is not innocent: it should help maintain public interest in the race between various private companies in the sector.
In July, the British billionaire Richard Branson flew aboard a spaceship of Virgin Galactic, a few days before Jeff Bezos traveled on the first manned flight of the New Shepard rocket, the same one that will transport William Shatner.
For its part, SpaceX sent four tourists spacecraft to Earth orbit for three days in September, a mission that was the subject of a Netflix series.
“Bringing in a celebrity like William Shatner, who is related to space, brings a kind of resurgence and creates media attention,” Joe Czabovsky, a public relations expert at the University of North Carolina, told AFP.
Star Trek, space pioneers
The original Star Trek series closed after three seasons, but sequels and more than a dozen films subsequently fueled the phenomenon. In it, Captain Kirk commanded a five-year mission to “explore strange new worlds, discover new forms of life, other civilizations.”
Your actual trip into space will take much less time – about ten minutes in total, of which four will be in zero gravity. The spacecraft will travel just above the Karman Line, which marks the limit of space at 100 km altitude, according to the international convention.
The “Star Trek” series directed America’s attention to the conquest of space, then in its infancy, while addressing social issues.
The cast was very diverse at a time when the United States was in the midst of the civil rights movement. In 1968, when William Shatner and African-American actress Nichelle Nichols kissed, it was the first kiss between a white person and a person of color on American television.
Conquest of space
The series is also closely tied to the American space program.
NASA’s first space shuttle was called «Enterprise», in honor of the ship captained by Captain Kirk. In the 1970s, Nichelle Nichols made a video to help NASA recruit astronauts, especially women and minorities. Other actors in the series have participated in NASA conferences or lent their voices in documentaries.
“For 50 years, ‘Star Trek’ has inspired generations of scientists, engineers and even astronauts,” said American astronaut Victor Glover in a 2016 documentary on the parallels between research on the series and ongoing research. today on the International Space Station.
Another famous “Star Trek” fan? Jeff Bezos himself. He, for example, has told how Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant, was inspired by the computer in the series.
The billionaire even appeared, unrecognizable under an alien makeup, in one of the films: “Star Trek Unlimited” (2016).
William Shatner’s celebrity status, as well as his sense of humor – he said in an interview with CNN that the New Shepard rocket, which is often mocked for its phallic appearance, “inseminates the space program” – is a distraction. welcome to Blue Origin.
The company has been accused by some employees – former and current – of maintaining a “toxic” work environment and with rampant sexism.
In a statement posted online at the end of September, employees complained of understaffing, from the scarcity of resources and the extreme pressure to reduce costs and deadlines, which affected the safety of flights.
Blue Origin has denied these allegations.