VAN HORN, Texas – As William Shatner prepares to be beamed up Wednesday for his first real-life spaceflight, and to become at 90 the oldest person ever to enter the final frontier, he's bringing out the awe in the small handful of people around a rural Texas spaceport.
Shatner's 10-minute trip with three others on the second passenger flight from Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin will be more like the first space launches of the 1960s than the fictional galactic voyages of the Starship Enterprise on “Star Trek,” but the very idea of him leaving the atmosphere is powerful.
“It’s time Captain Kirk actually physically got up into space. I’m kind of excited about that,” said Becky Brewster, mayor of Van Horn, a rural town of about 1,800 people on what was once desolate desert ranchland in far West Texas that has been transformed by the presence of the Blue Origin spaceport facilities 25 miles away.
The mayor, a lifelong “Star Trek” fan, said she was disappointed she wasn't invited to the launch site but is savoring the moment anyway. She's planning to watch from her backyard with the livestream playing.
“He and Mr. Spock were the ones that got me interested in space and science fiction and and everything else," Brewster said. “So, from junior high age up to now where William Shatner is actually in our town fixing to go up into space. You know, it’s kind of like the whole circle now for me.”
Beyond his celebrity identity, Shatner being space-bound at his age is a kick for close observers.
Joseph Barra, who works as a bartender for a Los Angeles catering company, heard only that he was getting an unusual gig at a remote Texas launch site.
“I’m like stop. You had me at space. Had no clue what else,” Barra said. “And then all I heard was their gonna send some 90-year-old man into space. And I’m like, Dang, that sounds intense. Like, I wonder who that is. Then you get in site and I’m like, Oh, it’s William Shatner.”
Barra said the experience of serving drinks to Shatner and his crew mates has been surreal and then some.
“We’re seeing that the man who in a sense like made space popular or made or gave everybody dreams of going to space,” Barra said. “Now he’s the one going to space and he’s the one setting the bar. It’s inspiring. Some like here, this man is 90 years old, proving that no matter how old you are, you still have more to do and accomplish on this Earth, and you can still give people an inspiration and a source and something to aspire to.”
Barra said he heard Shatner say he plans to just gaze out the window at Earth during his minutes of weightlessness.
But he has a bit more planned apparently.
A Twitter user asked Shatner, an avid tweeter, on Tuesday whether he will post from space.
“I cannot bring my phone but I’ve prearranged a little something,” Shatner replied with a wink emoji.
Earlier in the week he tweeted a photo of himself and his fellow crew members in blue flight suits that are far more futuristic than the yellow leotard-style uniform he wore on the original “Star Trek."
“Aren’t we all adorbs!” Shatner said.
Bezos, who was on Blue Origin's debut flight in July, is also a big “Star Trek” fan, and invited Shatner to take the flight as a guest.
He’ll join three others — two of them paying customers in the burgeoning business of space tourism — aboard a Blue Origin capsule.
The fully automated flight, delayed by a day due to weather, will take them no higher than about 66 miles (106 kilometers). The capsule will parachute back to the desert floor, not far from where it took off.
Shatner plans to get right back to his work as Captain Kirk once he's back down to Earth.
“I’m doing Space, then Indiana Comic Con, & then on Sunday Wizard World Chicago,” he tweeted.
Dalton reported from Los Angeles.