Watch live as Jeff Bezos’ rocket company launches TV star William Shatner to the edge of space today

william shatner in blue flight jumpsuit side by side with new shepard rocket launching
William Shatner (left) purchased a seat on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket (right).

Five decades after debuting as the cosmos-exploring commander Captain James T. Kirk in “Star Trek,” actor William Shatner is about to fly to space in real life.

Blue Origin, the rocket company Jeff Bezos founded in 2000, is preparing to rocket Shatner and three others to the edge of space aboard its New Shepard launch system at 9 a.m. CDT (10 a.m. ET) Wednesday morning.

The entire flight lasts just 11 minutes, with passengers reaching an altitude of 62 miles. They’ll get about three minutes of weightlessness.

This is the company’s second flight with passengers; its first carried Bezos and three others above the planet in July.

“I’m thrilled and anxious and a little nervous and a little frightened about this whole new adventure,” Shatner told the “Today” show last week.

At age 90, Shatner will become the oldest person to reach the boundary of space, breaking the record set by 82-year-old aviator Wally Funk on Bezos’ July flight.

He will share the spaceship with former NASA engineer Chris Boshuizen, healthcare entrepreneur Glen de Vries, and Blue Origin’s vice president of mission and flight operations, Audrey Powers. The flight is automated, so no pilot will be on board.

Chris Boshuizen, William Shatner, Audrey Powers, and Glen de Vries in blue space jumpsuits
Left to right: Chris Boshuizen, William Shatner, Audrey Powers, and Glen de Vries in their Blue Origin flight jumpsuits.

The launch was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but poor weather caused a delay.

Blue Origin hopes this will be the beginning of an ongoing operation flying high-paying customers to the edge of space. Neither the company nor Shatner have disclosed how much the seats cost. A spot on the flight with Bezos sold at auction for $28 million, but regular flights cost much less. Competitor Virgin Galactic sells its own suborbital flights for $450,000 per seat.

Watch live as Blue Origin flies William Shatner to space

Blue Origin says it will broadcast the flight, in the video embedded below, starting 90 minutes before liftoff.

As the rocket screams through the skies above Texas, the force of its climb and the pull of Earth’s gravity will press the passengers into their seats. Then 2 minutes and 45 seconds after liftoff, the rocket should release the passenger capsule, letting it drift up to the boundary of space – an imaginary border 62 miles above sea level called the Kármán Line.

Shatner and his companions will be able to see the curvature of the Earth and its thin atmosphere against the blackness of space.

jeff bezos and three other passengers in jumpsuits float around spaceship cabin earth in background
A screengrab from video recorded inside the New Shepard capsule in July shows (left to right) Oliver Daemen, Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, and Wally Funk in microgravity.

For about three minutes, they’ll be allowed to unbuckle, flip around weightless, and enjoy the views. Then the passengers must strap back into their seats for the high-speed plunge to Earth. They’ll plummet through the atmosphere and feel a jolt as the capsule releases three parachutes to slow its fall and land back in Texas.

Blue Origin employees have questioned New Shepard’s safety

The New Shepard crew capsule parachutes to a landing at Blue Origin's Launch Site One in Texas on January 14.
The New Shepard crew capsule parachutes to a landing at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in Texas, January 14, 2021.

Shatner’s flight comes amid fallout from a recent open letter from current and former Blue Origin employees, which called New Shepard’s safety into question.

“In the opinion of an engineer who has signed on to this essay, ‘Blue Origin has been lucky that nothing has happened so far,'” the letter said. “Many of this essay’s authors say they would not fly on a Blue Origin vehicle.”

Alexandra Abrams, who used to head Blue Origin’s employee communications, published the letter on the website Lioness in September. Abrams was the only named author, but she said 20 other current and former employees cowrote it. CBS News spoke with five of them.

New Shepard First Human Flight
Jeff Bezos descends from Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule after his flight on July 20, 2021.

“Competing with other billionaires – and ‘making progress for Jeff’ – seemed to take precedence over safety concerns that would have slowed down the schedule,” the letter said.

It continued: “Some of us felt that with the resources and staff available, leadership’s race to launch at such a breakneck speed was seriously compromising flight safety.”

In a statement to Insider, Blue Origin said: “We stand by our safety record and believe that New Shepard is the safest space vehicle ever designed or built.”

jeff bezos inspects blue origin new shepard rocket booster
Jeff Bezos inspects a New Shepard rocket booster after it landed from a test flight.

The company’s statement added that Abrams “was dismissed for cause two years ago after repeated warnings for issues involving federal export control regulations.” Abrams denied receiving such warnings.

New Shepard has flown 16 times – a strong record. It also has an emergency-escape system that should jettison the passenger capsule away if the rocket malfunctions. Blue Origin has tested the escape system on the launchpad, in midair, and in space.

Still, no federal agency regulates the safety of passengers on private commercial spaceflights. For now, the Federal Aviation Administration just ensures that these rocket launches don’t pose a threat to other aircraft or to people on the ground.

About 1% of US human spaceflights have resulted in a fatal accident, according to an analysis published earlier this year. That’s about 10,000 times higher than the rate on commercial airplanes.

Read the original article on Business Insider