More than 50 years after he debuted as the beloved Capt. James T. Kirk in the original series of "Star Trek," William Shatner boldly flew to the edge of space.
The 90-year-old actor launched Wednesday aboard a rocket and a capsule developed by Blue Origin, the private spaceflight company founded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The historic joyride made Shatner the oldest person to reach space.
"It was unbelievable," Shatner said shortly after emerging from the capsule. "I'm so filled with emotion."
Shatner and three other crew members — Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s vice president of mission and flight operations, and two paying customers, Glen de Vries and Chris Boshuizen — rode Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket and capsule to the edge of space. Liftoff occurred at around 10:50 a.m. ET, and the entire flight lasted about 10 minutes.
Bezos escorted the four passengers to the launch pad and greeted them after their spacecraft touched down again. After Shatner climbed out of the capsule, he hugged Bezos and shared how moved he was by the brief trip.
"What you have given me is the most profound experience I can imagine," he told Bezos through tears. "I am overwhelmed. I had no idea."
Shatner, who recalled feeling jittery before liftoff, spoke about what it was like to accelerate to the edge of space. He also described seeing the planet's thin atmosphere and gazing back at the curvature of Earth.
"There's this soft blue," Shatner said. "And it’s so thin. And you’re through it in an instant."
During the flight, Shatner tweeted a quote from the 17th century physicist Isaac Newton: "I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, diverting myself in now & then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."
The mission was delayed by nearly an hour as crews at the launch pad worked to ensure that the rocket was ready for flight. High winds at the Texas launch site had forced Blue Origin to push the expedition from its originally scheduled time earlier in the week.
In an interview last week on NBC’s “TODAY” show, Shatner spoke about his anticipation for the flight.
“I’m going to see the vastness of space and the extraordinary miracle of our Earth and how fragile it is compared to the forces at work in the universe — that’s really what I’m looking for," he said.
Shatner's trip was Blue Origin's second launch of an all-civilian crew. The company's inaugural flight in July was a high-profile and high-stakes event, with Bezos, his brother and two other passengers onboard.
The New Shepard rocket and capsule are designed for suborbital jaunts, which don't actually enter into orbit around Earth but rather fly to the edge of space, at an altitude of more than 65 miles, where passengers can experience around four minutes of weightlessness.
Wednesday's flight launched from a site in west Texas, southeast of El Paso. After liftoff, the rocket accelerated toward space at three times the speed of sound. At about 250,000 feet, the New Shepard capsule separated, taking Shatner and his fellow crew members to the edge of space.
After reaching a peak altitude of 351,000 feet, the craft descended under parachutes and landed again in the Texas desert.
Shatner's expedition was the latest in what has been a recent flurry of space tourism flights. Nine days before Bezos flew to the edge of space, British billionaire Richard Branson completed his own suborbital joyride, riding aboard a rocket-powered vehicle developed by his own space tourism company, Virgin Galactic.
Neither Blue Origin nor Virgin Galactic have announced final pricing for their suborbital flights. Tickets are expected to cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In addition to trips to the edge of space, people with deep pockets may soon be able to pay for orbital experiences and longer stays in microgravity.
Last month, SpaceX, the spaceflight company founded by billionaire Elon Musk, launched four private passengers into orbit around Earth on a three-day expedition. That flight made history as the first orbital launch with an all-civilian crew.
SpaceX is also preparing to launch three private passengers, who each paid $55 million, to the International Space Station early next year.