2021-10-12 22:11:39 Shatner, Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, set for Blue Origin launch | Space News
Shatner, Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, set for Blue Origin launch | Space News
“Risk is our business,” said James T Kirk once. “That is the purpose of this starship.” That’s why we’re on board.”
More than a half-century later, the actor who played the fabled Enterprise captain is, at the age of 90, making that kind of risk his own and heading for the stars under dramatically different circumstances than his fictional counterpart. In doing so, William Shatner is causing worlds to collide, or at the very least allowing parallel universes to coexist — the utopian spacefaring vision of Star Trek and the evolving, increasingly commercial place that “space” holds in the American psyche.
When Shatner boards Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin NS-18 in Texas around dawn Wednesday, his single small step into the craft creates one of our era’s ultimate crossover stories.
Sure, it’s about space and exploration, but it’s also about capitalism, billionaires, and issues of economic equity. However, it is also about popular culture, marketing, entertainment, nostalgia, hope, Manifest Destiny, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and
“What will I see when I go out?” Shatner pondered this last week while speaking with Anderson Cooper on CNN. Another valid question is, “What will we see when he’s out there?”
It will be a complex mix of human dreams superimposed on technology and hope, braggadocio and cash, and the idea that space travel elevates us — all orchestrated by a company under fire for what some call its decidedly un-utopian, tech-bro ways of doing business.
Is all of that compatible with Star Trek?
Trek has evolved into an intricate transmedia universe full of subtleties, traditions, and rules since its 1966 debut with one of the most diverse casts ever seen on television.
Humans, for example, try not to kill each other. Money, like hunger and poverty, is generally out of date. Greed is abnormal. Noninterference is the most sacred principle in other cultures. And within the United Federation of Planets, Star Trek’s spacefaring United Nations, exploration, not dominance, is the order of the day. In a nutshell, unlike the majority of humanity right now.
Humans first set foot on the moon 47 days after the final episode of the original series. Star Trek roared back for more over the next half-century, backed by a vocal fan base, and led the way in cementing space travel as an ideal canvas for relevant storytelling. Trek remained one of the culture’s primary vehicles for a future in space. Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura on the show, was a particularly tenacious advocate, collaborating with NASA to recruit people of color and women.
The vision has evolved but has remained generally utopian, despite the fact that two of the most recent iterations, Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard, have descended deeper into darkness than their predecessors. Throughout all of the varying stories, one constant remained: the idea that human space travel would become a vector of ethics and goodness, elevating the galaxy rather than plundering it.
This brings us to companies like Blue Origin, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic — ventures that build their brands on corporations rather than countries. They present a narrative in which space travel is not only for scientists and diplomats, but also for ordinary people like you and me. If you and I happen to have a few hundred thousand dollars or more in cash lying around.
Many have criticized the billionaire space moguls’ actions, including the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Blue Origin’s corporate culture has recently been well-documented.
However, the Amazon founder’s motivations remain unknown. However, it is clear that the popular culture of space travel has had a significant impact on Bezos. He made a cameo as an alien Starfleet official in the 2016 film Star Trek Beyond, as a longtime Trek fan. Bezos even considered naming Amazon “Makeitso.com,” after Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s favorite command, according to biographer Brad Stone.
“The entire ethos of Star Trek showed people who looked different, had different skills, and worked together.” “We’re just getting started,” said Richard B Cooper, vice president of the Space Foundation, a non-profit that advocates for the global space industry. “People can look around and say, ‘Hey, I belong there, too.'”
Aside from the prohibitive costs (which are significant), Cooper has a valid point. Though Shatner and others may not be “regular people,” the shift away from the dominance of the test pilot and scientist corresponds with our era’s populism, in which — it must be said — the exactitude of science is being called into question as never before. And, as Cooper observes, “it gives people hope.”
That kind of plot arc — hope, heroism, competitive dominance, and an unwavering sense of competence that can sometimes overlap with testosterone — is extremely powerful. When NASA and nation-focused space travel lack a compelling Hollywood narrative, entrepreneurs and their marketers step in to fill the void.
“No one cares about American dominance in space.” ‘We can’t keep living like this,’ says Bezos. “We have to save the planet,” says Mary-Jane Rubenstein, a Wesleyan University professor of religion and science in society.
“Billionaires have the utopian visions,” said Rubenstein, author of the upcoming book Astrotopia: The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race. “The states are unable to muster them.” They don’t have a story.”
Should we even be attempting to colonize space? Isn’t there already enough to worry about at home? Aren’t there people who have more pressing problems than this who could benefit from the money?
And what if we come across life that isn’t life as we know it and harm it out of ignorance or greed? It’s not as if that hasn’t happened countless times here on Earth, in the country that put a man on the moon but still grapples with a history riddled with horrors ranging from slave markets to smallpox blankets. These are just a few of the questions that will float up and down with Shatner on Wednesday.
Is it a prank? Sure. Is it a brilliant marketing ploy? Absolutely. Is it cynical and self-aggrandizing, with the sole purpose of making more money and attracting more attention for the world’s richest man? You’ll have to make your own decision on that.