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Star Trek actor Shatner flies to space, makes history

Actor William Shatner – who embodied the promise of space travel on the “Star Trek” TV series and films blasted off to space on Wednesday, after several delays.

He was among the four-person all-civilian crew in Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin space craft for the company’s second suborbital tourism flight.

Shatner, at age 90, has become the oldest person ever in space.

He and his crewmates took off just before 10. 00 a.m at the Blue Origin’s launch site about 20 miles (32 km) outside the rural west Texas town of Van Horn.

They were back by parachute 11 minutes after. The flight was beamed live by CNN and PBS and streamed on Facebook and Twitter.

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 and strapped in after ascending a set of stairs accompanied by Bezos.

Each rang a bell before entering the capsule. Before that, they rode a vehicle with Bezos at the wheel to the launch pad after about a half hour delay.

Winds were light and skies were clear ahead of launch time.

Joining Shatner were former NASA engineer Chris Boshuizen, clinical research entrepreneur Glen de Vries and Blue Origin vice president and engineer Audrey Powers.

Blue Origin said the astronauts will experience about three to four minutes of weightlessness and travel above the internationally recognized boundary of space known as the Karman Line, about 62 miles (100 km) above Earth.

The crew capsule returned return to the Texas desert under parachutes.

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 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 at age 82 became the oldest person to reach space.

Bezos, the Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) founder and current executive chairman, formed Blue Origin two decades ago.

Shatner, who turned 90 in March, has been acting since the 1950s and remains busy with entertainment projects and fan conventions. He is best known for starring as Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise on the classic 1960s TV series “Star Trek” and seven subsequent films about fictional adventures in outer space.

As an actor, Shatner was synonymous with space voyages. During the opening credits of each episode of the series, he called space “the final frontier” and promised “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Shatner said there is both irony and symmetry to his space trip, having played a space explorer for decades and now actually becoming one.

“Having played the role of Captain Kirk … assigns me the knowledge that a futuristic astronaut would have, but I’ve always been consumed with curiosity,” Shatner said in a Blue Origin video.

Shatner’s participation in the flight has helped generate publicity for Blue Origin as it competes against two billionaire-backed rivals – Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc (SPCE.N) – to attract customers willing to pay large sums to experience spaceflight.

Branson inaugurated his space tourism service on July 11, riding along on a suborbital flight with six others aboard his company’s VSS Unity rocket plane. SpaceX, which has launched numerous astronauts and cargo payloads to the International Space Station for NASA, debuted its space tourism business by flying the first all-civilian crew to reach Earth’s orbit in a three-day mission ending Sept. 18.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration two weeks ago said it will review safety concerns raised by former and current Blue Origin employees who have accused the company of prioritizing speed and cost savings over quality control and adequate staffing.