To the Final Frontier: NS-18 shepherds William Shatner, three others to edge of space

by Chris Gebhardt

Blue Origin flew their second crewed suborbital tourism flight on their New Shepard capsule and rocket with four passengers, including Star Trek’s William Shatner.

Liftoff of the NS-18 mission occurred at 09:49 AM CDT (14:49 UTC) from Blue Origin’s suborbital launch and landing facility north of Van Horn, Texas on Wednesday, October 13.

The mission was originally targeting a launch on Tuesday, October 12; however, unfavorable weather caused Blue Origin to shift the mission by one day per preflight weather assessments.

The suborbital mission lofted four participants inside of the New Shepard capsule to an altitude above 100 km, where they experienced up to four to five minutes of microgravity.

The exact amount of time spent in microgravity was dependent on the ultimate altitude reached by the capsule, which was itself dependent on day-of weather conditions and the day-of performance of the BE-3 engine that powers the New Shepard booster.

The BE-3 engine burned liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen stored in the New Shepard booster’s propellant tanks. It produced 490 kN (110,000 lbf) of thrust at liftoff, increasing to 710 kN (160,000 lbf) thrust as the rocket ascended into the vacuum of space.

Ignition of the engine occurred at the T0 mark in the countdown. This was followed by seven seconds of vehicle and engine health checks before New Shepard was released from the pad at the T+7 second mark.

The NS-18 mission was the second crewed suborbital tourism flight from Blue Origin in the last three months, following crew flight debut on the NS-16 mission on July 20, 2021.

The Passengers

William Shatner

Born March 22, 1931, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, William Shatner is an actor, author, director, producer, screenwriter, and singer who has enjoyed a now 70-year career in the arts and entertainment industry.

His film debut came in 1951 in the Canadian picture “Butler’s Night Off.” He began appearing in roles in American television in the late 1950s and guest-starred in numerous shows throughout the early 1960s.

In 1963, he appeared in the classic “Twilight Zone” episode “Nightmare at 20,000 feet” in which his character sees something out on the wing of a passenger plane.

In the 1980s, he starred in the main role of police officer T.J. Hooker, and in the late 1990s he guest-starred as The Big Giant Head in the comedy series “3rd Rock From The Sun.” In the 2000s, he portrayed eccentric lawyer Denny Crane for all five seasons of “Boston Legal.”

He is also a No. 1 selling musician, with his album “The Blues” attaining the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Blues Chart in October 2019. 

An avid horse breeder, he raises American Saddlebreds and is active in numerous charities, including the “Horses For Heroes” program for both veterans and wounded service personnel. “The program uses both mounted and un-mounted equine-assisted activities to help in physical and emotional healing,” according to its website.

But it is the role he earned in 1966 for which he is best known and cemented him as a cultural icon: Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise in the Star Trek franchise.

He appeared in every episode of The Original Series and reprised the role in The Animated Series and seven feature films.

His last on-screen appearance as Captain Kirk came with the 1994 movie “Star Trek Generations” — though he reprised the role in voiceover form later for the Futurama episode “Where No Fan Has Gone Before,” various video games and TV commercials, and NASA in 2011.

For the U.S. space agency, Shatner recorded a paraphrased version of the iconic Star Trek opening monologue to honor the final voyage of the Space Shuttle Discovery. 

Played for the STS-133 crew on March 7, 2011, Discovery’s final day docked to the International Space Station, the crew were awakened by Shatner’s voice saying: “Space, the final frontier. These have been the voyages of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Her 30-year mission: To seek out new science. To build new outposts. To bring nations together on the final frontier. To boldly go, and do, what no spacecraft has done before.”

Now, just more than 55 years after he originated the role of Captain Kirk, a man (and character in Kirk) who inspired multiple generations to become astronauts and scientists and leaders and commanders finally got his chance to travel to the place that is synonymous with his name.

William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk during the three-year run of the original Star Trek series. (Credit: NBC Television/Paramount/CBS)

Speaking before the flight, he said, “I’ve heard about space for a long time now. I’m taking the opportunity to see it for myself. What a miracle.”

While he was the first main cast member of Star Trek to travel to the final frontier, he was not be the first Star Trek actor to do so.

That honor is held by NASA astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, who flew as a Mission Specialist on the STS-47 flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavour in September 1992 before appearing as a Transporter officer in the Season 6 episode “Second Chances” of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

Dr. Jemison routinely credited “Star Trek” and Nichelle Nichols — who starred alongside Shatner as Lt. Uhura — as being a role model for her and inspiring her to become an astronaut.

Two other NASA astronauts, Terry Verts and Mike Finke, appeared in the “Star Trek: Enterprise” episode “These Are The Voyages…” in 2005.

At 90 years old, William Shatner became the oldest person to date to travel into space.

Audrey Powers

Audrey Powers is Blue Origin’s Vice President of Mission & Flight Operations and oversees all New Shepard flight operations, vehicle maintenance, and launch, landing, and ground support infrastructure. 

Audrey Powers. (Credit: Blue Origin)

She was part of the multi-year process to certify New Shepard for human flight after previously serving as Deputy General Counsel and Vice President of Legal & Compliance for Blue Origin.

Before her work in legal, she was a guidance and control engineer for almost a decade and served as a flight controller for NASA with 2,000 hours of console time in Mission Control for the International Space Station to her name.

Powers is a licensed pilot and serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

“I’m so proud and humbled to fly on behalf of Team Blue, and I’m excited to continue writing Blue’s human spaceflight history,” Audrey said in a statement released by Blue Origin. 

“I was part of the amazing effort we assembled for New Shepard’s Human Flight Certification Review, a years-long initiative completed in July 2021. As an engineer and lawyer with more than two decades of experience in the aerospace industry, I have great confidence in our New Shepard team and the vehicle we’ve developed.”

Dr. Chris Boshuizen

Chris Boshuizen is the co-founder of Planet Labs, where he served as Chief Technology Officer from 2010 to 2015.

During this time, Planet Labs became the first company to commercially utilize nanosatellites. It now has more than 450 satellites in low Earth orbit that provide daily, global mapping of Earth’s changing surface.

Dr. Chris Boshuizen. (Credit: Blue Origin)

After leaving Planet Labs, Dr. Boshuizen served as a Space Mission Architect at NASA’s Ames Research Center from 2008 to 2012. At NASA Ames, he co-invented the NASA Phonesat, a free-flying orbital satellite built out of an ordinary smartphone. 

While at NASA, he also established Singularity University, a school for studying the consequences of accelerating technological development. 

He earned a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Sydney, during which he served as the first Executive Director of the Space Generation Advisory Council.

“This is a fulfillment of my greatest childhood dream,” Dr. Boshuizen said of his flight. “More importantly, though, I see this flight as an opportunity to inspire students to pursue careers in STEM and catalyze the next generation of space explorers. After all, our future of life in space is in their very capable hands.” 

He was the third Australian to reach space.

Glen de Vries

Glen de Vries is the co-founder of Medidata Solutions, the world’s most-used clinical research platform. The platform has enabled more than 25,000 clinical trials with more than seven million patients in areas from vaccines to cancers and rare diseases. 

He is the Vice-Chair of Life Sciences and Healthcare at Dassault Systèmes, which acquired Medidata in 2019. He is also a Trustee of Carnegie Mellon University, author of “The Patient Equation,” and is an instrument-rated private pilot. 

“I’ve spent my entire career working to extend people’s lives. However, with limited materials and energy on Earth, extending our reach into space can help humanity continue to thrive,” said de Vries via a statement issued by Blue Origin. 

“Furthermore, astronauts can experience the ‘overview effect,’ gaining a new perspective on how fragile and precious our planet, those resources, and our civilization are.”

“Playing a part in advancing the space industry and one day making those resources and that understanding available to everyone is an incredible opportunity. I’ve been passionate about aviation and space for as long as I can remember, so this flight is truly a dream come true.”

(Lead image: The crew of NS-18. Left to right: Dr. Chris Boshuizen, William Shatner, Audrey Powers, and Glen de Vries. Credit: Blue Origin)

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