William Shatner expected he would achieve the “ultimate catharsis” after his historic flight into space. Instead, the voyage left him filled with grief, an “overwhelming sadness” and a newfound appreciation for the beauty of Earth, the Star Trek actor has said.
“My trip to space was supposed to be a celebration; instead, it felt like a funeral,” an excerpt from his book Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder, published by Variety, reads.
“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 … but when I looked in the opposite direction, into space, there was no mystery, no majestic awe to behold … all I saw was death,” Shatner wrote.
Images of the actor pressed up against the window of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket capsule were live-streamed back to Earth in October last year as the four-person crew approached the boundary of space, known as the Kármán Line, and continued on.
But for Shatner, recalling the view almost one year later, he describes “a cold, dark, black emptiness … deep, enveloping, all-encompassing”.
“Everything I had thought was wrong. Everything I had expected to see was wrong,” he wrote. “I had thought that going into space would be the ultimate catharsis of that connection I had been looking for between all living things – that being up there would be the next beautiful step to understanding the harmony of the universe.”
The Canadian, who captivated the world in his role as Captain James Kirk of Star Trek’s USS Enterprise, broke down in tears upon landing, describing having had “the most profound experience I can imagine”. “I hope I never recover from this,” he said at the time. “I’m so filled with emotion about what just happened. It’s extraordinary, extraordinary.”
But a year after touching down back to Earth, Shatner wrote in the excerpt: “I discovered that the beauty isn’t out there, it’s down here, with all of us. Leaving that behind made my connection to our tiny planet even more profound.”
“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.
“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 5bn 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.”
He added in a recent interview with the Washington Post: “Everybody else was shaking bottles of champagne, and it was quite a sense of accomplishment. And I didn’t feel that way at all. I was not celebrating. I was, I don’t know, shaking my fists at the gods.”