Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin is to launch William Shatner, the actor best known for his role as Captain James T. Kirk in the original “Star Trek,” and three others on a short trip to the edge of space on Wednesday morning.
It will be the company’s second mission with space tourists on board.
Launch of Mr. Shatner, whose character crossed the outer space of the USS Enterprise for years, could be a symbolic moment for Blue Origin, one of a handful of billionaire-backed space companies struggling to make what once seemed like science fiction a reality by launch wealthy adventure seekers into space and beyond.
“There seems to be a lot of curiosity that this fictional character, Captain Kirk, is going into space,” Shatner said in an advertising video the company posted on Twitter. “So let’s agree. Enjoy the ride. “
When is the launch and how can I see it?
Liftoff is scheduled for 10 a.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, and Blue Origin will stream the flight live on its YouTube channel. The video begins approximately 90 minutes before the flight.
The launch was originally scheduled for Tuesday morning, but windy conditions over West Texas caused Blue Origin to push the launch 24 hours back. If more strong winds show up on Wednesday, the company could choose to delay the flight by a further 24 hours until Thursday.
Who are the passengers other than William Shatner?
Three other passengers will join Mr. Shatner on Wednesday’s flight:
Audrey Powers, a Blue Origin vice president who oversees New Shepard air operations; like Mr. Shatner, she did not have to pay for her seat.
Chris Boshuizen, co-founder of Planet Labs, a company that builds small satellites, also known as CubeSats, is used by various clients to monitor the Earth from orbit.
Glen de Vries, CEO and co-founder of Medidata Solutions, a company that built clinical trial software.
Dr. Boshuizen or Mr. de Vries is the second and third paying passenger to fly on a Blue Origin flight. The first was Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old man from the Netherlands. The company has not stated how much any of these customers have paid for their seats on the flights.
As ticket-buying customers, the early investors in an industry executive look like they will one day be cheap enough for a wider section of the public to benefit from.
What happens during the flight?
The full mission lasts about 10 minutes. New Shepard launches at an altitude of about 63 miles, a widely recognized marker of where space begins and known as the Kármán line.
In height, the booster rocket, about six stories high, releases the capsule where the crew sits. The booster then begins a descent back to the ground, after which the single engine restarts to land vertically on a concrete slab five miles from where it was launched.
Back in space at the same time, the crew capsule is suspended in a free fall. Passengers experience approximately four minutes of weightlessness in microgravity as well as views of the Earth’s slightly curved horizon, where the atmosphere meets space. Each seat has its own 3.5-foot by 2.3-foot window.
“I’m excited and anxious and a little nervous and a little scared of this whole new adventure,” Shatner said in an interview on NBC’s “Today” program on Monday.
During the capsule’s free fall to land, it uses a first set of parachutes to slow its speed, then a second set of three larger parachutes to carry the capsule softly to land at about 15 miles per hour.
What is the turmoil at Blue Origin?
In September, Alexandra Abrams, the former head of employee communications at Blue Origin, published an essay with 20 unnamed current and former employees of Blue Origin, saying that the company’s work culture was fraught with sexism and that internal security issues were often rejected by management.
Since the release of the essay, Abrams said in an interview that she had received supportive messages from current Blue Origin employees and engineers. She said she had also heard from employees of other companies describing their difficulties in the workplace. That response surprised her when she had expected an onslaught of attacks from others in the small space industry. “I was personally very happy to see the responses from everyone except Blue Origin,” Abrams said.
Blue Origin disputed the allegations in the essay, saying in a statement that the company has an internal hotline for complaints of sexual harassment and that the New Shepard was the “safest spacecraft ever designed or built.” The company also said Abrams was fired over “repeated warnings about issues related to federal export control rules.”
Ms Abrams said it was wrong and that she was fired in 2019 because of her disagreement with a new policy that she was asked to help rollout to ban workers from joining forces to take legal action over workplace issues and force them to settle disputes private arbitration with the company.