Star Trek actor William Shatner finally had the opportunity to travel into space for real on October 13, 2021, thanks to a Blue Origin launch, after years of impersonating a spacefarer on television. In doing so, the actor who plays Captain Kirk set a record for the oldest space traveller.
Shatner discloses an unexpected response to viewing Earth from a great distance in his latest book, Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder: "crushing melancholy."
Shatner explains his feelings when onboard the spacecraft with tech entrepreneur Glen de Vries, Blue Origin vice president Audrey Powers, and veteran NASA engineer Dr. Chris Boshuizen in an online book extract uploaded by Variety.
For instance, he remembers seeing a compartment at the top of the gantry that was enclosed in cement and to which he was instructed to go if the rocket burst. And he claims that soon before takeoff, the ground crew noted a "slight irregularity in the engine," which caused him to get anxious.
Then the launch happened, with its powerful gravitational pull. Shatner adds, "At two g's, I tried to raise my arm, and could hardly do so." "I felt my face being driven into my seat at three g's. I'm not sure how much longer I can take this, I thought. Will I faint? Will I melt into a puddle of goo? How much g can my 90-year-old body withstand? Then, all of a sudden, relief. No g’s. Zero. Weightlessness. We were in the air.
Shatner observed the emptiness of space as he peered out the windows of the New Shepherd crew capsule. No mystery or grand awe could be seen. "Death was all I saw," he writes. "I saw a chilly, ominous, black void. There was no other darkness like it elsewhere on Earth. It was profound, engulfing, and all-pervasive.
Then, as he looked back toward the "light of home," he was struck by still another feeling: "It was among the deepest feelings of grief I have ever experienced. I felt an overpowering sense of grief when I considered how the harsh coldness of space contrasted with the comforting warmth of Earth below. We are constantly aware of the additional harm we are doing to the planet: animal species, flora, and fauna are disappearing, and things that took five billion years to evolve are now gone forever due to human involvement. It made me feel anxious. It was intended to be a celebration during my voyage to space, but it seemed more like a wake.
Shatner mentions that Yuri Gagarin, Michael Collins, and Sally Ride were among the astronauts who experienced the alleged "Overview Effect."
In essence, he adds, when a person goes to space and observes Earth from orbit, they develop an instinctual awareness of the planet's fragility. "The phrase "there are no borders or boundaries on our world save those that we construct in our brains or via human behaviours" was originally used in 1987 by author Frank White. From orbit and the moon, all the thoughts and conceptions that separate us when we are on the surface start to disappear. A change in identity and perspective is the outcome.
Naturally, Shatner went back to Earth and gradually adopted a hopeful outlook. He writes in the book, "In this insignificance we share, humans have one gift that possibly other animals do not: we are conscious —not only of our insignificance, but the magnificence surrounding us that makes us unimportant. That gives us a chance to reconsider our commitment to the environment, to one another, and to the life and love all around us. if we take the opportunity.