A half-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 toward that goal. Science fiction met reality on Wednesday as one of those fans, now one of the richest people in the world, gave the show’s leading actor a brief ride up into the ether.
The mission went according to plan. The aftermath appeared unscripted, and all the better for it.
William Shatner, eternally famous as Captain James T. Kirk on the original “Star Trek,” returned to Earth apparently moved by the experience beyond measure. His trip aboard Jeff Bezos’ rocket might have been conceived as a publicity stunt, but brushing the edge of the sky left the actor full of wonder mixed with unease:
It was unbelievable … To see the blue cover go whoop by. And now you’re staring into blackness. That’s the thing. The covering of blue, this sheet, this blanket, this comforter of blue that we have around us. We say, ‘Oh that’s blue sky.’ And then suddenly you shoot through it and all of a sudden, like you whip the sheet off you when you’re asleep, you’re looking into blackness.
Mr. Shatner was talking to Mr. Bezos immediately after exiting the capsule with the three other passengers. The others greeted their family and friends. Champagne corks popped. There was lots of laughter, high-spirited relief. But Mr. Shatner, a hale 90 standing in the West Texas dust, talked about 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 don’t know. Was that death? Is that the way death is? Whoop and it’s gone. Jesus. It was so moving to me.
Mr. Bezos listened, still as a statue. Maybe he was just giving Mr. Shatner some space, but it was a sharp contrast to his appearance after his own brief spaceflight in July when he flew the same spacecraft as Mr. Shatner. Then, he held forth from a stage, rousing condemnation from critics of the vast company he founded as he thanked Amazon’s employees and customers for making it possible for him to finance his private space venture.
Or maybe Mr. Bezos was just acting naturally. His role model has always been the cool, passionless Mr. Spock rather than the emotional, impulsive Captain Kirk. Amazon, which prizes efficiency above all, was conceived and runs on this notion.
When he played at “Star Trek” as a boy, Mr. Bezos has said, he would sometimes take 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.