Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin is set to launch William Shatner, the actor known best for his role as Captain James T. Kirk in the original “Star Trek,” and three others on a brief journey to the edge of space Wednesday morning.
It will be the company’s second mission with space tourists on board.
Launching Mr. Shatner, whose character crisscrossed outer space in the U.S.S. Enterprise for years, could be a moment of symbolism for Blue Origin, one of a handful of billionaire-backed space companies vying to make what once seemed like science fiction into reality by launching wealthy adventure seekers to space and beyond.
“It looks like there’s a great deal of curiosity in this fictional character, Captain Kirk, going into space,” Mr. Shatner said in a promotional video posted on Twitter by the company. “So let’s go along with it. Enjoy the ride.”
When is the launch and how can I watch 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 will begin about 90 minutes before the flight.
The launch was initially scheduled for Tuesday morning, but windy conditions over West Texas prompted Blue Origin to push the launch back 24 hours. If more strong winds pop up on Wednesday, the company could choose to delay the flight by another 24 hours, to 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 flight operations; like Mr. Shatner, she did not have to pay for her seat.
Chris Boshuizen, a co-founder of Planet Labs, a company that builds small satellites, also known as CubeSats, that are used by assorted clients for monitoring Earth from orbit.
Glen de Vries, a chief executive and co-founder of Medidata Solutions, a company that built software for clinical trials.
Dr. Boshuizen or Mr. de Vries are the second and third paying passengers to fly on a Blue Origin flight. The first was Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old man from the Netherlands. The company has not said how much any of these customers paid for their seats on the flights.
As ticket-purchasing customers, they are something like early investors in an industry executives hope will one day be cheap enough for a broader swath of the public to take advantage of.
What will happen during the flight?
The full mission lasts about 10 minutes. New Shepard launches to an altitude of roughly 63 miles, a widely recognized marker of where space begins and known as the Kármán line.
At peak altitude, the booster rocket, about six stories high, releases the capsule where the crew sit. The booster then begins a descent back toward the ground, reigniting its single engine to land vertically on a slab of concrete five miles from where it launched.
Back in space at the same time, the crew capsule is suspended in a free fall. The passengers experience roughly four minutes of weightlessness in microgravity as well as views of Earth’s slightly curved horizon where its atmosphere meets space. Each seat has its own window of 3.5 feet by 2.3 feet.
“I’m thrilled and anxious, and a little nervous and a little frightened, about this whole new adventure,” Mr. Shatner said during an interview on NBC’s “Today” show on Monday.
During the capsule’s free fall toward land, it deploys an initial set of parachutes to brake its speed, then another set of three bigger 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 the company’s work culture was rife with sexism and that internal safety concerns were often dismissed by management.
Since publishing the essay, Ms. Abrams said in an interview that she had received supportive messages from current Blue Origin employees and engineers. She said she also had heard from employees at other companies describing their workplace difficulties. That response surprised her, as she had expected an onslaught of attacks from others in the small aerospace industry. “I personally was very heartened to see the responses, from everyone but Blue Origin,” Ms. Abrams said.
Blue Origin disputed the allegations in the essay, saying in a statement that the company has an internal hotline for sexual harassment complaints and that New Shepard was the “safest space vehicle ever designed or built.” The company also said Ms. Abrams was fired over “repeated warnings for issues involving federal export control regulations.”
Ms. Abrams said that was false, and that she was fired in 2019 over her disagreement with a new policy that she was asked to help rollout to prohibit workers from banding together to take legal action over workplace issues and force them to settle disputes in private arbitration with the company.