Half a century ago, a television show told young people that space travel would be the coolest thing ever. Some of them were even inspired to work towards that goal. Science fiction met reality on Wednesday when one of those fans, now one of the richest people in the world, gave the show’s protagonist a brief ride on the airwaves.
The mission went according to plan. The aftermath seemed unwritten, and all the better for it.
William Shatner, eternally famous as Captain James T. Kirk in the original “Star Trek”, returned to Earth, apparently moved by the experience beyond measure. His journey aboard Jeff Bezos’ rocket may have been construed as a publicity stunt, but as he wiped the edge of the air, the actor remained full of wonder mingled with discomfort:
It was unbelievable… To watch the blue cover go by. And now you’re staring into the black. That’s it right for him. The cover of blue, this sheet, this blanket, this duvet of blue that we have around us. We say, ‘Oh that’s blue sky.’ And then all of a sudden you shoot through it and all of a sudden, like you’re pulling the sheet off you when you’re sleeping, you look into the darkness.
Mr. Shatner spoke to Mr. Bezos immediately after he and the three other passengers exited the capsule. The others greeted their family and friends. Champagne corks popped. There was much laughter, cheerful relief. But Mr. Shatner, a hale 90 standing in the dust of West Texas, spoke of space as the final frontier:
You look down, there’s the blue down there, and the black up there. There is Mother and Earth and comfort and there is… Is there death? I do not know. Was that death? Is that the way death is? Hoppa and it’s gone. Jesus. It was so moving for me.
Mr. Bezos listened, still like a statue. Maybe he was just giving Mr. Shatner some space, but it was in stark contrast to his appearance after his own short spaceflight in July, when he flew the same spacecraft as Mr. Shatner. He then held his ground from a podium, calling out criticism of the massive company he had founded, while thanking Amazon’s employees and customers for allowing him to fund his private space business.
Or maybe Mr. Bezos just acted natural. His role model is always the cool, passionless Mr. Spock instead of the emotional, impulsive Captain Kirk. Amazon, which particularly values efficiency, was conceived and runs on this idea.
When he played on “Star Trek” as a boy, Mr. Bezos said, he sometimes took on the role of the ship’s computer. Amazon’s voice-activated speaker Alexa was designed as a household version of the “Star Trek” computer, which always had the answer to every question.