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William Shatner Reflects on “Overwhelming Sadness” from 2021 Space Flight: “It Felt like a Funeral”

Shatner shared his experience with the "Overview Effect" and more in an excerpt from his new book

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William Shatner space flight book excerpt Boldly go reflections on a life of awe and wonder blue origin jeff bezos star trek captain james kirk
William Shatner in Shatner in Space (Prime Video)

    William Shatner has opened up about his 2021 space flight with Blue Origin in an excerpt from his newly-released book, Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder, shared via Variety.

    The essay details the preparation for the space shuttle launch on October 13th, 2021, which included Star Treks original Captain Kirk in a record-breaking endeavor as the oldest person to travel to space at his then-90 years of age, as well as some of the surprisingly grim takeaways from his ascended viewpoint. After admitting to some apprehension that stemmed from engine anomalies, a contingency plan if the rocket exploded pre-flight, and a recurring image of the Hindenburg disaster, Shatner shared his experience with g-force and his impression once the four-person crew reached weightlessness. “Everything I had thought was wrong,” he said. “Everything I had expected to see was wrong.”

    “It was among the strongest feelings of grief I have ever encountered,” Shatner recalled. “The contrast between the vicious coldness of space and the warm nurturing of Earth below filled me with overwhelming sadness. Every day, we are confronted with the knowledge of further destruction of Earth at our hands: the extinction of animal species, of flora and fauna… things that took five billion years to evolve, and suddenly we will never see them again because of the interference of mankind. It filled me with dread.”

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    Shatner had expected the trip to provide “the ultimate catharsis of that connection I had been looking for between all living things.” However, for a mission that was “supposed to be a celebration; instead, it felt like a funeral.” His reaction follows the “Overview Effect,” a phenomena common among astronauts like Yuri Gagarin, Michael Collins, and Sally Ride that features a seismic shift in worldview and human interconnectedness.

    The experience has apparently swung Shatner back to the side of optimism though as he shared, “It reinforced tenfold my own view on the power of our beautiful, mysterious collective human entanglement, and eventually, it returned a feeling of hope to my heart.” He concluded with a final challenge “to rededicate ourselves to our planet, to each other, to life and love all around us. If we seize that chance.”

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