When William Shatner took on the role of Capt. James T. Kirk on the original “Star Trek” series in 1966, Neil Armstrong was still three years away from taking that first “giant leap for mankind” on the surface of the moon.
Now the 90-year-old actor is set to take a big step of his own as he prepares to boldly go where his on-screen alter ego went all the time — space.
As Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin, announced Monday, Shatner will fly to the final frontier aboard the rocket New Shepard NS-18, and on Tuesday, the star visited TODAY and opened up about the opportunity and why he's so eager to take it.
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"We talk about space and what weightless conditions are, the enormity of the universe and the absolute jewel of a little thing we call the Earth by comparison," the star said. "I’m going to feel that with the same enormity that I felt this electrical storm last night."
He said expects the experience to give him a perspective he couldn't get any other way.
"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," he mused. "That’s really what I’m looking for."
When asked if he believes his role as Capt. Kirk, which he's reprised numerous times in film and television, led him to this experience, Shatner joked, "I’m so sorry to disappoint you, but all that was fiction." However, on a more serious note, he admitted that it does have "a symmetry to it. There's a whole circle of life involved here."
While the TV captain never seemed worried about his space treks, the man behind the character can't say the same.
"I’m thrilled and anxious and a little nervous and a little frightened about this whole new adventure," Shatner said.
Most of all, though, he's excited to get a new perspective on a subject he's only experience onscreen, and he's also excited about the prospect of returning to TODAY to tell all about it after it's over.
"I really want to tell you the message that I get firsthand from seeing things that we’ve only heard about — things I’ve only played as an actor, I’m going to see firsthand. I want to come back and tell you about how I really felt when I saw these things that we’ve only learned about secondhand or thirdhand."
As he described it in a statement released Monday, “I’ve heard about space for a long time now. I’m taking the opportunity to see it for myself. What a miracle.”
Shatner’s real-life space mission is set for Oct. 12, when he will join Blue Origin’s vice president of mission and flight operations, Audrey Powers, as well as crew mates Chris Boshuizen and Glen de Vries, when they all take off from West Texas and head for the stars.
The journey will make the nonagenarian actor the oldest person to ever travel to space.