This week, 60 years after President John F. Kennedy launched the race to the moon — and formally ushered in the space age — William Shatner, aged 90, made his own journey to the final frontier.
Shatner, who played James T. Kirk, captain of the USS Enterprise in the iconic 1960s TV series Star Trek, has been acclaimed worldwide for his successful attempt to “go old” where no one his age has gone before.
A prominent observer, however, was unimpressed, and Shatner had barely returned to Earth when he made his feelings known.
In an unprecedented move, Prince William attacked the “space tourism” now being developed by the world’s richest men — benefiting Shatner — as a waste of resources.
In doing so, he underlined the position of the Royal Family as arguably Britain’s most effective environmental pressure group, a position reinforced less than 24 hours later by the Queen’s comments about those talking about protecting the environment.” . . . but they don’t’.
This week, William Shatner, (pictured with Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos after the flight) aged 90, made his own journey to the final frontier.
In 1961, President Kennedy outlined his national goal for the decade to “land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth.” He would describe the “great and honorable” mission to reach the moon and turn the space race into “a force for good.”
America’s “leadership in science and industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves and others, all require us to make this effort,” Kennedy told a world that retained much of its post-war optimism.
Nearly 50 years since the last of the five moon landings, the balance sheet, while not totally fulfilling JFK’s lofty ambitions, appears broadly in black.
The technology developed during the space race has contributed to the production of many products that have significantly improved our lives, from Velcro and non-stick frying pans to pacemakers and kidney dialysis machines.
Just as importantly, it also gave us the first view of our fragile blue-green oasis in the boundless black desert of space that has done so much to inspire the environmental movement.
However, it’s far less possible to find the positives for humanity in William Shatner’s ten-minute jaunt courtesy of Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos.
While it was a genius PR story to invite ‘Captain Kirk’ as a guest passenger, it was hardly a surprise. Bezos, who has spent $10 billion to date and counts on his space company Blue Origin, is a Trekkie obsessive who once had a cameo role as an alien in a Star Trek episode.
I would say to Prince William and most of us that Bezos’ space ventures – and rival ventures of Elon Musk and Richard Branson – look like the self-indulgence of selfish and ruthlessly competitive billionaires.
It’s an impression enhanced by the remarkably phallic shape of the rocket that brought up Shatner and three fellow passengers. All that money could have been better spent, right? William will surely think so
It’s an impression enhanced by the remarkably phallic shape of the rocket that brought up Shatner and three fellow passengers. All that money could have been better spent, right? William certainly thinks so.
“We need some of the world’s greatest minds and minds determined to fix this planet, not find the next place to live,” he said.
“I want the things I’ve loved—the outdoors, nature, the environment—to be there for my kids and everyone else’s kids. If we’re not careful, we’re robbing our children’s future.’
The prince has the power to speak out. His green credentials are not in doubt. His gap year work at a conservation and sanctuary in Kenya has opened his eyes to the threat humans pose to Africa’s wildlife and has shed tears over slaughtered rhinoceroses.
He helped persuade China to end its ivory trade, and this weekend will see the inaugural presentation of his Earthshot Prize, which provides £1 million in funding for solutions to environmental problems.
The influence of his father Prince Charles, who has campaigned on numerous green issues for 50 years, and his grandfather, Prince Philip, who helped found the World Wildlife Fund, has been pivotal.
Even before her comments on COP26, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, we knew the Queen was clueless when it came to the environment
Even before her comments on COP26, the 2021 United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, we knew the Queen was clueless when it came to the environment.
She takes care to conserve energy in her palaces – to the point of turning off the lights herself – and cultivates the gardens organically.
In reality, even their supporters struggle to gather convincing arguments for the billionaires’ efforts.
They say the advent of space tourism will help us better understand the fragility of the planet. But flights are beyond the reach of anyone but a hugely wealthy elite and will remain so for some time to come.
The cost of tickets for Bezos’ rocket is a secret, but Branson charges $450,000 at a time.
Ironically, as Prince William also noted, there are “fundamental questions” about the pollution caused by spaceflight. A space tourist’s carbon footprint is generally about 100 times that of a transatlantic airline passenger.
Worse still, rockets pollute the sensitive upper layers of the atmosphere, with effects we don’t yet understand. There are also well-founded concerns that the emissions could damage the ozone layer, which is only just recovering from previous depletion after a massive international effort.
Jeff Bezos claims his rocket is cleaner than its rivals because the fuel, hydrogen and oxygen, emits only water.
But experts point out that even water can have a warming effect when expelled into the upper atmosphere, while the heat given off by all rockets as they climb changes atmospheric chemistry in harmful ways.
They say the advent of space tourism will help us better understand the planet’s fragility (pictured, launching a rocket carrying William Shatner)
Making Bezos’ fuel is polluting. And two weeks ago, 21 current and former employees of his aerospace company issued a statement accusing the company of lack of concern for the environment.
At the moment there are few flights, but the billionaires are in a new space race to expand massively.
Branson wants 400 flights a year. Bezos already has $100 million in advance bookings.
The threat of pollution will increase accordingly. But Prince William’s main point is the most important of all. The urgent need is to save the planet we have.
With global warming accelerating and with only about 20 years to go below the danger level of a 1.5 degree Celsius temperature rise, we should prioritize the fight against climate change.
Investment in that area would do more than space tourism to protect economies and create jobs.
Providing safe drinking water to the 2.2 billion people, a third of the world’s population, who do not have it and suffer a huge number of deaths and diseases as a result, would cost just £10 billion by comparison.
We know how to combat global warming and provide everyone with clean water.
It’s not, as they say, rocket science. But for the selfish billionaires, that is precisely the problem.