William Shatner says Blue Origin spaceflight filled him with ‘grief’ — here’s why

The Overview Effect isn’t typically compared to being at “a funeral.”
Chris Young
William Shatner during his Blue Origin trip (left) and New Shepard at launch (right).
William Shatner during his Blue Origin trip (left) and New Shepard at launch (right).

Source: Blue Origin 

William Shatner dedicated a portion of his new book, titled "Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder", to describing his experience with the Overview Effect while flying aboard a Blue Origin New Shepard rocket in suborbital space.

His description is thoroughly surprising as it is one of grief and sadness over conditions on Earth, instead of the connectedness and inner calm described by other astronauts.

The intense grief of William Shatner's spaceflight

Shatner flew to suborbital space aboard one of Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin rockets in October last year — you can watch a video of the entire mission below. In the new book, the 91-year-old actor known for playing the iconic role of Captain Kirk in "Star Trek" describes the surprising reaction he had while traveling to space for the first time.

"I love the mystery of the universe," he writes, as per a book excerpt shared with Variety. "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."

Shatner, who broke the record for the oldest person to fly to space during his flight, continues, writing that "my trip to space was supposed to be a celebration; instead, it felt like a funeral. 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."

"Everything I had thought was wrong," Shatner adds, "everything I had expected to see was wrong. I had a different experience, because 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."

What is the Overview Effect?

One of the main selling points for Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and other space tourism firm, is their ability to allow passengers to experience the Overview Effect.

The Overview Effect is a term coined by author Frank White to refer to the psychological effect of seeing Earth from space on human beings. It describes a cognitive change of consciousness reported by many astronauts during spaceflight. Its typically characterized by a renewed sense of responsibility and obligation to protect our fragile Earth.

Shatner has spoken before about the profound impact of his Blue Origin launch into space. Earlier this year, he told CNN he cried constantly after his trip because he was "grieving for the destruction of the Earth." That's pretty impressive for an 11-minute round trip.

Jeff Bezos himself had a similar experience, stating that his flight aboard Blue Origin's first crew launch made him believe we should move industry off-world to stop polluting the planet and prevent climate change. Blue Origin's New Shepard rockets are currently grounded while the Federal Aviation Authority investigates the company's first launch failure, which saw the rocket's capsule escape system successfully deployed. Thankfully, that mission was delivering scientific payloads to space, and no humans were onboard at the time.

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