William Shatner is not now — and never was — a spaceship captain, but he played one on TV. In 2021, William Shatner finally went to space aboard a gratuitously phallic spacecraft owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos. Don’t read into that too much. But instead of feeling triumph or the undaunted spirit of James T. Kirk, Shatner felt dread and says he saw only “death,” as CNN reports.
Instead of awe, outer space filled Shatner with despair for what we’ve done to the Earth. It’s ironic that the 91-year old actor who sat in the captain’s chair of the USS Enterprise on the show Star Trek in the ’60s (and, later, reprised his role on Futurama) felt unsettling despair and dread upon going to space in real life, after having boldly gone into the unknown for decades.
Shatner explains why space was such a gloomy muse in his recent biography, Boldly Go, but he also says he saw nothing but death out there because of the perspective space gave him. During an interview with CNN, Shatner said:
When I got up to space, I wanted to get to the window to see what it was that was out there. I looked at the blackness of space. There were no dazzling lights. It was just palpable blackness. I believed I saw death.
And then I looked back at the Earth. Given my background and having read a lot of things about the evolution of Earth over 5 billion years and how all the beauty of nature has evolved, I thought about how we’re killing everything.
I felt this overwhelming sadness for the Earth.
I didn’t realize it until I got down. When I stepped out of the spacecraft, I started crying. I didn’t know why. It took me hours to understand why I was weeping. I realized I was in grief for the Earth.
The infamous actor isn’t wrong to weep for the waste we’ve wrought on Earth, which is so often blamed on individual people rather than lucrative industries — whether it’s big ag, energy, or the automotive industry.
I have a theory about Shatner seeing only death in space that involves being greeted at landing by one of the world’s richest people, whose workers have to keep working during natural disasters, but Shatner pokes holes in my theory by mentioning billionaires like Jeff Bezos who want to expand to space, per CNN:
The whole idea here is to get people accustomed to going to space, as if it’s like going to the Riviera. It’s not only a vanity – it’s a business.
But what Jeff Bezos wants to do and what is slowly accruing because of our familiarity with space is get those polluting industries up into orbit and get the earth back to what it was. (Editor’s note: Bezos has routinely talked about moving heavy industries into orbit to help preserve the Earth, and that idea also has its skeptics and critics.)
Well, William, sorry to say, but the death you saw on Earth will probably reach Mars, too. If Shatner wants to extend that feeling of despair to the Red Planet, then Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles is prime reading material. The point being that unless we suddenly become a society modeled after the (good) one in Nausicaä, death and decay will likely follow us into space, the final frontier.