Blue Origin to send William Shatner to space as Russia films movie scenes on ISS

It’s a big day for news about movies in space with the announcement that Captain Kirk is finally about to blast off for real and Russia is sending a filmmaker and an actor to the International Space Station to make a film.

Jeff Bezos’s space travel company, Blue Origin, said that Star Trek actor William Shatner would join three others — two of them paying customers — aboard a capsule on October 12.

“Yes, it’s true; I’m going to be a ‘rocket man!'” the 90-year-old Shatner tweeted. He added: “It’s never too late to experience new things.”

Mr Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is a huge fan of the sci-fi series and even had a cameo as a high-ranking alien in the 2016 film Star Trek Beyond.

His rocket company invited Shatner to fly as its guest.

Shatner’s flight will last just 10 minutes and reach no higher than about 106 kilometres before his capsule parachutes back to the desert floor, not far from where it took off.

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Shatner will become the oldest person to go to space.

He’ll wind up being the second actor to reach space this month, with Russia sending Yulia Peresild to the International Space Station for almost two weeks of moviemaking.

‘An incredible chance’

Peresild and director Klim Shipenko are set to blast off from Kazakhstan on Tuesday local time in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft together with cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, a veteran of three space missions.

After 12 days on the space station, Peresild and Shipenko will return to Earth with another Russian cosmonaut.

The crew plans to film segments of a new movie, titled Challenge, about a surgeon summoned to rush to the space station to save a crew member who has a heart condition.

Speaking at a news conference at the Russian launch facility, Peresild acknowledged that the training for the mission was gruelling but described it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Shipenko, 38, has made several commercially successful movies, including Kholop (Serf), a 2019 movie that set a Russian box office record. 

One of Shipenko’s previous films, Salyut-7, told the real story of a challenging 1985 mission of two Soviet cosmonauts sent to resuscitate an abandoned space station.

He described the four-month training course as very intensive, adding that while it didn’t turn him and Peresild into professional astronauts it made them well prepared for the mission.

Shipenko said he was thrilled to be the first filmmaker in space and keen to experiment with lighting, camera settings and other technical aspects.

Once on the space station, Shipenko said he would don a T-shirt that he always wore when he began to shoot a new movie.

A woman and two men wearing blue cosmonaut suits clasp hands in front of a Russian space agency logo.
Yulia Peresild (left) and Klim Shipenko (right) will spend nearly two weeks on the International Space Station after blasting off with Anton Shkaplerov (centre).(

Reuters:  Andrey Shelepin/GCTC/Roscosmos

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Colonel Shkaplerov insisted that his entertainment world crewmates were fully ready for the flight after their fast-tracked training.

“No-one had that experience before: to prepare people who had no relation whatsoever to the space program for a space flight,” he said, adding that it could be useful in the future if a need arose to urgently send an outside expert into orbit.

Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian state space corporation Roscosmos and a key driving force behind the project, described making the world’s first feature film in space as a chance to raise the nation’s space prestige.

“Movies long have become a powerful instrument of propaganda,” he said in June, arguing that the new film would help counter what he described as Western efforts to “humiliate” the Russian space program.

Some Russian media were sceptical about the plan, and there were reportedly some doubts inside the Russian space program as well.

The Russian segment of the International Space Station is considerably less spacious than the US segment, leaving little room for filmmaking.

It was expanded in July after the long-awaited arrival of the new lab module, the Nauka, which was yet to be fully integrated into the station.

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The world’s richest man and three passengers successfully rocket briefly into space.

Space tourism taking off

Space tourism is picking up steam fast.

Virgin Galactic carried founder Richard Branson to the edge of space with five others in July, followed nine days later by Bezos’s space hop.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX, meanwhile, launched its first private crew last month — a Pennsylvania entrepreneur who bought the three-day flight and took along two contest winners and a cancer survivor.

Virgin Galactic’s ship launches from an airplane and requires two pilots.

Blue Origin and SpaceX’s capsules are fully automated, but the passengers must pass medical screenings and, among other things, be able to quickly climb several flights of steps at the launch tower to get to the capsule — or out of it in an emergency.

This will be Blue Origin’s second launch of a crew.

Mr Bezos was on the debut flight on July 20.

He took along his brother, an 18-year-old from the Netherlands and 82-year-old aviation pioneer Wally Funk — the youngest and oldest to fly in space. Shatner will break that upper threshold by eight years.

William Shatner.
Blue Origin said William Shatner had passed all the necessary medical checks. 

Star Trek’s history of space travel

“I’ve heard about space for a long time now. I’m taking the opportunity to see it for myself. What a miracle,” Shatner said in a statement.

Shatner played the role of the USS Starship Enterprise’s commander for three seasons, from 1966 to 1969. He also portrayed Captain James T Kirk in seven movies, directing one of them.

He’s currently the host and executive producer of a History Channel show, The UnXplained.

The ashes of two other Star Trek powerhouses — creator Gene Roddenberry and actor James Doohan, who played Scotty — rocketed into space years ago following their deaths.

Launching with Shatner are a former NASA engineer who founded a nanosatellite company and the co-founder of a software company specialising in clinical research. The two took part in the auction for a seat on the first flight. That seat cost $28 million; Blue Origin isn’t divulging any other ticket prices.

A fourth seat on the flight is going to Blue Origin’s vice-president of mission and flight operations, who used to work for NASA as a space station flight controller.

A Blue Origin spokeswoman said Shatner, like the others, met all the company’s health and physical requirements.

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Last week, more than 20 current and former Blue Origin employees accused the Kent, Washington-based company of having a toxic work environment and not adhering to proper safety protocols.

Blue Origin said it did not tolerate harassment or discrimination and stood by its safety record.

Mr Bezos’s company is also challenging a NASA contract award to SpaceX for providing a lunar lander that will return astronauts to the moon in a few years.

Blue Origin was unsuccessful in its bid for the job.

AP

Eleanore Beatty

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