VAN HORN (Texas) • Actor William Shatner soared aboard a Blue Origin rocketship on a suborbital trip and landed in the Texas desert yesterday to become - at the age of 90 - the oldest person in space, as US billionaire businessman Jeff Bezos' company carried out its second tourist flight.
Mr Shatner was one of four passengers to journey to the edge of space aboard the white fully autonomous 18.3m-tall New Shepard spacecraft, which took off from Blue Origin's launch site about 32km outside the rural west Texas town of Van Horn.
The four astronauts experienced about three to four minutes of weightlessness and travelled above the internationally recognised boundary of space known as the Karman Line, about 100km above Earth.
The crew capsule returned to the Texas desert under parachutes, raising a cloud of dust.
The four astronauts, all wearing blue flight suits with the company's name in white letters on one sleeve, climbed into the crew capsule atop the spacecraft before the launch and strapped in after ascending a set of stairs accompanied by Mr Bezos.
Each rang a bell before entering the capsule, with Mr Bezos then closing the hatch.
Before that, they rode a vehicle with Mr Bezos at the wheel to the launch pad.
Mr Bezos is also Amazon.com Inc founder and its current executive chairman.
Winds were light and skies were clear for the launch, which was conducted after two delays totalling about 45 minutes.
Joining Mr Shatner - who embodied the promise of space travel in the classic 1960s TV series Star Trek and seven subsequent films - in the all-civilian crew were former National Aeronautics and Space Administration engineer Chris Boshuizen, clinical research entrepreneur Glen de Vries, and Blue Origin vice-president and engineer Audrey Powers.
It marked the second space tourism flight for Blue Origin.
The flight represents another important day for the nascent space tourism industry that, according to UBS, could reach an annual value of US$3 billion (S$4.1 billion) in a decade. The flight, previously scheduled for Tuesday, was pushed back a day for wind-related reasons.
Blue Origin had a successful debut space tourism flight on July 20, with Mr Bezos and three others aboard, flying to the edge of space and back on a trip lasting 10 minutes and 10 seconds.
On that flight, pioneering female aviator Wally Funk, 82, became the oldest person to reach space.