William Shatner says space trip filled him with sadness, climate anxiety

William Shatner expected that going to space in October 2021 would induce “the ultimate catharsis” — a sense of connection between all living things. Instead, having stared into “the vicious coldness of space,” he found himself confused as the Blue Origin spaceship landed and he stepped back onto Earth.

Touching the ground, Shatner wept, and he wasn’t sure why.

“Everybody else was shaking bottles of champagne, and it was quite a sense of accomplishment. And I didn’t feel that way at all. I was not celebrating. I was, I don’t know, shaking my fists at the gods,” Shatner told The Washington Post.

It took Shatner several hours to realize what he was experiencing: “great grief … for the planet.” The actor, now 91, had been involved in environmental causes for years. But feel Oct. 13 trips aboard the Blue Origin spaceship, which made him the oldest human to visit space, gave that work new urgency, he said. Juxtaposing its “cold, dark, black emptiness” with “the warm nurturing of Earth below” filled him with deep despair and sparked a realization.

“I discovered that the beauty isn’t out there, it’s down here, with all of us. Leaving that behind made my connection to our tiny planet even more profound,” he wrote in an excerpt of his new book, “Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder,” which was published Thursday by Variety.

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For three seasons in the mid-to-late 1960s, Shatner brought space, the final frontier, into American homes as Capt. James Kirk in “Star Trek: The Original Series.” It was around the time he was portraying the fictional commanding officer of the USS Enterprise that Shatner read Rachel Carson’s seminal ecological text “Silent Spring,” which he described last year as an eye-opener.

“I read it and began to bleat about the warming of the planet,” he said. “But nobody took it seriously.”

Still, Shatner kept bleating about the environment. He starred in the 1986 film “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” in which his crew travels back in time to save humpback whales, which were endangered at the time, because they’re the only creatures who can communicate with an alien probe that threatens to destroy the Earth. The movie was inspired by Greenpeace, which saw donations increase after the blockbuster’s release and reacted to the film by saying it “subtly reinforces why Greenpeace exists.”

In 2009, Shatner scolded Hewlett-Packard for failing to keep its promise to produce a “toxic-free” computer. And he’s consistently warned that overpopulation and climate change are existential threats to humanity.

After playing a fictional spaceship captain for decades, Shatner finally got his own chance to venture into the final frontier. In August 2021, two months before his civilian flight, Shatner said he wanted to go to space so that he could look back at “the blue orb” and hinted that “a very enterprising and entrepreneurial friend” had once explored how to get Shatner on a civilian flight.

Two months later, Blue Origin, the space company owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos, announced that Shatner and three other passengers would fly into space on its second human spaceflight mission. In a news release, Shatner described the opportunity to see space for himself “a miracle.” (Bezos also owns The Post.)

A day before taking off, Shatner was excited for his imminent trip to space. In one video clip, he joked about jumping out of the spaceship capsule. In another, he said he planned to have his nose pressed against the window, and that when he did, he didn’t want to see “a little gremlin” looking back at him.

Then, it was launch day, and at 9:49 am Central time, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket — named after Alan Shepard, the first American to go into space — blasted off. Shatner’s flight lasted a little more than 10 minutes, climbing to a height of about 66 miles, four miles beyond one of the thresholds generally considered the edge of space. While in flight, the crew saw the Earth below and the dark abyss on the other side, experiencing weightlessness for a few minutes. Shatner said he looked out the window, preoccupied with the color and curvature of the Earth beneath him, even as he endured the discomfort of weightlessness and then the “ominous blackness” of space.

Then, they descended. Slowed by parachutes, their capsule landed in the desert near Van Horn, Tex., as Blue Origin celebrated a successful mission. In the immediate aftermath of the spaceflight, Shatner thanked Bezos for giving him “the most profound experience I can imagine.”

“I’m so filled with emotion about what just happened. It’s extraordinary,” Shatner said. “I hope I never recover from this. I hope I maintain what I feel now. I don’t want to lose it.

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He didn’t, he told The Post on Sunday. But he did process it over the ensuing hours, days and months. He described the experience as “a clarion call” to stop climate change. Shatner said the devastating effects are already beginning to show, citing Hurricane Ian’s recent destruction of the Florida Gulf Coast and torrential rains in Pakistan. Such seismic forces have the power to snuff out animal and plant species, sometimes without humans ever knowing they existed.

“I am aware that every moment that goes by, things that took 5 billion years to emerge are going extinct,” Shatner told The Post. “We’ll never know them.”

Referring to the effort to build the atomic bomb in World War II, he called for a second “Manhattan Project of scientists,” a brain trust charged with removing carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

“There’s no time for war,” he told The Post, referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “That only contributes to the coming extinctions, which will include human beings.”

Shatner then mentioned the contrast between his expectation of the flight versus what happened while free-floating nearly 350,000 feet above the Earth a year ago. He described the experience in his book excerpt.

“It filled me with dread,” he wrote. “My trip to space was supposed to be a celebration; instead, it felt like a funeral.”

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