Billionaire US businessman Jeff Bezos’s company Blue Origin is set for its second suborbital tourism flight on Wednesday, with actor William Shatner -- who embodied the promise of space travel on the “Star Trek” TV series and films -- among the four-person all-civilian crew poised to blast off in Texas.
Shatner, at age 90, is due to become the oldest person ever in space. He and his crewmates are scheduled for a 9 a.m. (1000 EDT/1530 GMT) takeoff aboard the 60-foot-tall (18.3 meters-tall) fully autonomous New Shepard spacecraft at Blue Origin’s launch site about 20 miles (32 km) outside the rural west Texas town of Van Horn.
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Joining Shatner for what is expected to be a roughly 10-minute journey are former NASA engineer Chris Boshuizen, clinical research entrepreneur Glen de Vries and Blue Origin vice president and engineer Audrey Powers.
New Shepard is expected to carry the passengers more than 60 miles (96 km) above Earth, allowing them to experience a few minutes of weightlessness before the crew capsule returns to the Texas desert under parachutes. The flight, previously scheduled for Tuesday, was pushed back a day for wind-related reasons.
The four crew members went through training on Tuesday and the mission team completed a flight-readiness evaluation to ensure “all systems are go for launch,” Blue Origin said on Twitter.
Blue Origin had a successful debut space tourism flight on July 20, with Bezos and three others aboard, flying to the edge of space and back on a trip lasting 10 minutes and 10 seconds.
On that flight, pioneering female aviator Wally Funk at age 82 became the oldest person to reach space.
Bezos, the Amazon.com Inc founder and current executive chairman, formed Blue Origin two decades ago.
Shatner, who turned 90 in March, has been acting since the 1950s and remains busy with entertainment projects and fan conventions. He is best known for starring as Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise on the classic 1960s TV series “Star Trek” and seven subsequent films about fictional adventures in outer space.
As an actor, Shatner was synonymous with space voyages.
During the opening credits of each episode of the series, he called space “the final frontier” and promised “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
Shatner said there is both irony and symmetry to his space trip, having played a space explorer for decades and now actually becoming one.
“This is no piece of cake,” Shatner told the program “CBS Mornings.”
“I want to see space. I want to see the Earth. I want to see what we need to do to save Earth. I want to have a perspective that hasn’t been shown to me before,” Shatner said.
Shatner’s participation in the flight has helped generate publicity for Blue Origin as it competes against two billionaire-backed rivals -- Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc -- to attract customers willing to pay large sums to experience spaceflight.
Branson inaugurated his space tourism service on July 11, riding along on a suborbital flight with six others aboard his company’s VSS Unity rocket plane. SpaceX, which has launched numerous astronauts and cargo payloads to the International Space Station for NASA, debuted its space tourism by flying the first all-civilian crew to reach Earth’s orbit in a three-day mission ending Sept. 18.
The US Federal Aviation Administration two weeks ago said it will review safety concerns raised by former and current Blue Origin employees who have accused the company of prioritizing speed and cost savings over quality control and adequate staffing.
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