William Shatner says space ‘felt like a funeral’; ‘All I saw was death’

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Star Trek actor and Rocketman singer William Shatner boldly traveled to space last year on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket. As part of a promotion for Jeff Bezos’ space company — and a section for the actor’s life documentary — the actor was shot into space to see the great expense.

Upon landing back on Earth, Shatner delved into a beautifully vulnerable speech that was rudely interrupted by Bezos’ cheers and champagne. Now, almost a year later, the actor has been able to transfer his feelings into the written word.

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William Shatner on space and funerals

Explored in Shatner’s newest book, Boldly Go, the actor heavily discusses his trip into space. After decades of playing a fictional spaceship captain in Star Trek, the Captain Kirk actor was not prepared for the rush of feelings he was about to receive.

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Via an excerpt from Variety, Shatner said: “I love the mystery of the universe. I love all the questions that have come to us over thousands of years of exploration and hypotheses. Stars exploding years ago, their light traveling to us years later; black holes absorbing energy; satellites showing us entire galaxies in areas thought to be devoid of matter entirely… all of that has thrilled me for years… but when I looked in the opposite direction, into space, there was no mystery, no majestic awe to behold . . . all I saw was death.”

The 91-year-old explained that he “saw a cold, dark, black emptiness… unlike any blackness you can see or feel on Earth.” He continued: “It was deep, enveloping, all-encompassing. I turned back toward the light of home. I could see the curvature of Earth, the beige of the desert, the white of the clouds and the blue of the sky. It was life. Nurturing, sustaining, life. Mother Earth. Gaia. And I was leaving her.”

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Shatner explained that the journey did not offer the catharsis he thought it would. While he believed that space would improve his understanding of life in the universe, it made him believe me in the miracle of life on Earth.

“It was among the strongest feelings of grief I have ever encountered. The contrast between the vicious coldness of space and the warm nurturing of Earth below filled me with overwhelming sadness, he said. “Every day, we are confronted with the knowledge of further destruction of Earth at our hands: the extinction of animal species, of flora and fauna . . . things that took five billion years to evolve, and suddenly we will never see them again because of the interference of mankind. It filled me with dread. My trip to space was supposed to be a celebration; instead, it felt like a funeral.”

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A common side effect

In the book, Shatner explained that this effect is not uncommon between space travelers. The almost-100-year-old actor explained that it’s called the “Overview Effect”, and it’s altered many astronauts’ ideas about life.

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“Essentially, when someone travels to space and views Earth from orbit, a sense of the planet’s fragility takes hold in an ineffable, instinctive manner,” the actor wrote.”

“It can change the way we look at the planet but also other things like countries, ethnicities, religions; it can prompt an instant reevaluation of our shared harmony and a shift in focus to all the wonderful things we have in common instead of what makes us different. It reinforced tenfold my own view on the power of our beautiful, mysterious collective human entanglement, and eventually, it returned a feeling of hope to my heart. In this insignificance we share, we have one gift that other species perhaps do not: we are aware—not only of our insignificance, but the grandeur around us that makes us insignificant. That allows us perhaps a chance to rededicate ourselves to our planet, to each other, to life and love all around us. If we seize that chance.”

Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder is out now.