At 90, William Shatner, who gained fame and fortune on the TV series “Star Trek,” has come full circle as a real-life rocketeer.
On Oct. 13, he was launched as one of four passengers aboard the latest flight of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket. At his advanced age, Shatner became the oldest person to travel to the edge of space.
The 11-minute flight, which blasted off at three times the speed of sound, took Shatner to the edge of the earth’s atmosphere, where he floated weightlessly during the short trip and looked out on the blackness of planetary space. The experience left him “overwhelmed” and visibly and deeply touched after landing.
“No experience can equal this,” he said. “It would be so important for everybody to have that experience through one means or another.”
The actor was born into a Conservative Jewish family in Montreal, with grandparents who were all observant immigrants from Eastern Europe. He played Captain James Kirk, commander of the spaceship USS Enterprise, on the NBC-TV production of “Star Trek” from 1966 to 1969. The 55th anniversary of the series’ debut coincided with the second day of Rosh Hashanah this year.
Although it was canceled after three seasons due to poor ratings, the later success of the show in syndication led to a 1979 film featuring the original cast. Shatner was featured in five more “Star Trek” motion pictures over the years.
But all of that make-believe was nothing compared to 11 minutes of the real thing. Shatner’s recent space flight experience reminded him, he said, of human mortality itself, as he transitioned from the bright lights of earth to gaze out on the impenetrable darkness of the universe.
“It hasn’t got anything to do with the little green men and the blue orb. It has to do with enormity and the quickness and the suddenness of life and death,” he told Bezos after the flight, according to CNN.
Shatner has had an active career right up to the present. His latest film, “Senior Moment,” was released just four days after his 90th birthday. It’s about an aging former NASA test pilot who loses his driver’s license for speeding but finds love with another senior he meets on the transit bus he’s forced to take to get around. In real life, Shatner is married to his fourth wife, who is 31 years younger than he is.
He makes frequent appearances before fans and is a familiar presence in television commercials. The well-publicized Shatner flight on the Blue Origin rocket is a boost for Bezos’ commercial venture, which is aimed at popularizing the trips for the well-heeled. Bezos is not alone in the new space race for the wealthy, with competition from Elon Musk’s Space X and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Holdings.
Over the years, Shatner maintained a strong friendship with Leonard Nimoy, his Jewish co-star in the “Star Trek” series and films, who singlehandedly introduced America audiences to the open-handed priestly blessing of the Kohanim.
The religious custom survives in the priestly blessing offered — depending on custom — during the High Holy Days and at several other holidays throughout the year.
Nimoy, who played Tevya in a stage production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” was the voice of a series of Jewish short stories on public radio and also narrated “A World Apart” with Sarah Jessica Parker, about Chasidism in America. He was an avid photographer and in 2002 published “Shekhina,” an impressionistic photographic series meant to evoke the Kabbalistic belief in G-d’s mystical feminine presence.
Shatner’s relationship with Nimoy during the latter’s last years was strained, but his comments at the time of Nimoy’s death in 2015 were another of Shatner’s reflections on human existence. In its tone, it echoed the words he spoke following his short trip to the edge of space.
At the time of Nimoy’s passing, he opined of life, “it’s all ephemeral. Everything dies. Everything turns to dust. The only thing that remains are our good deeds, that’s the legacy.”
Watch 90-year-old William Shatner on YouTube during weightlessness on his rocket journey.