Star Trek actor William Shatner (90) into space, ‘especially Bezos’ PR offensive

90-year-old Star Trek actor William Shatner took a short space flight today. He did that in a capsule of Blue Origin, the company of billionaire Jeff Bezos. Shatner became the oldest person ever in space.

Shatner and three other passengers boarded a rocket in Texas on Wednesday morning (local time), launched to a height of 106 kilometers and landed again near the launch point about ten minutes later.

This is how the short space journey of ‘Captain Kirk’ went:

For many fans of science fiction films, Shatner is one of the cinematic space icons. Between 1966 and 1994, he played the role of Captain James T. Kirk in the original Star Trek television series and Star Trek films. Kirk was the captain of the spaceship USS Enterprise and had many adventures with his crew on fictional planets and space.

To bring Shatner on Blue Origin‘s second manned commercial flight was especially a way to generate attention for the company, says Ronald Klompe, space historian at the National Space Museum.

The first manned space flight of Blue Origin in July included Bezos, but also NASA Wally Funk’s 82-year-old flight instructor. She was the oldest person in space at that time. On board was also 18-year-old Dutchman Oliver Daemen, who became the youngest person in space. โ€œThis second flight with Shatner is very much a PR stunt like that first flight with Bezos and Funk on board,โ€ explains Klompe.

โ€œTypically, such a PR offensive works well for sales. Especially on the first five flights you have to do that. Then you‘ll be a bit of a household brand in space. If those celebrity flights go flawlessly, you leave an impression. Then it starts selling itself more.โ€

According to the space historian, the company certainly needs that attention. Competitor Virgin Galactic, of billionaire Richard Branson, started selling tickets for his short space flights years ago and has already sold more than six hundred tickets. For that, consumers counted about 380,000 euros. Blue Origin, which charges roughly the same prices, only started offering tickets for the short space flights this year.

โ€œToxic Corporate Cultureโ€

Positive PR was probably able to use the company for other reasons as well, because Blue Origin has been negative in the news several times over the past few months. For example, The Washington Post recently reported about the โ€œtoxic authoritarian corporate cultureโ€ that would prevail within the company.

The Bezos company also objected to NASA, which did not do good the company’s image, says Klompe. NASA decided in April that fellow billionaire Elon Musk competitor SpaceX was granted the exclusive right to build the vehicle that the Americans want to return to the moon.

โ€œEspecially in the American space world, this objection is seen as a childish action and it seeps on to the general public. So the company needs good PR again.โ€