When he went to space, William Shatner had to ‘cry’ with grief

When he went to space, William Shatner had to ‘cry’ with grief

When he went to space, William Shatner had to ‘cry’ with grief

This fall, he plans to publish a book called “Boldly Go,” which publisher Simon and Schuster say is heralded as a sort of philosophical reflection on his life, career, and the “interconnectivity of all things.” He is also the face of a new coding competition that will give the winner the chance to travel more than 18 miles (29 kilometers) high in a spacecraft-like capsule tethered to a balloon. (Yes really.)

CNN Business spoke to the “Star Trek” legend in an extended interview this week. Here is a brief summary.

Shatner was the invited guest of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on the second-ever crewed flight of New Shepard, the suborbital space tourism rocket developed by Bezos’ company Blue Origin. When he returned, Shatner was visibly shaken. He described seeing the empty, black expanse of the cosmos as “seeing death.”

“There’s Mother Earth and comfort, and then there’s… death,” he said at the time.

After the flight, he couldn’t stop crying, he said in an interview with CNN Business this week.

“It took me hours to understand what it was, why I was crying,” he said. “I realized I was sad. I was mourning the destruction of the Earth.”

Shatner said he was deeply impressed by “Silent Spring,” the 1962 book on environmental activism by biologist Rachel Carson.

“Getting worse!” Shatner said about the environmental crisis. “It’s like someone owes money to a mortgage, and they don’t have the payments and they’re like, ‘Oh, let’s go eat and not think about it.'”

What he thinks about billionaires in space

Companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Bezos’ Blue Origin – which run two of the world’s richest men – have often been the target of criticism. Could space exploration, paved by the rich, ever bring about the kind of egalitarianism heralded by “Star Trek”?

“That’s missing the whole idea here,” Shatner said. “The whole idea is to get people used to space, like going to the Riviera. It’s not a vanity. It’s a business.”

He also reiterated the goal Bezos has publicly set: If we can make space travel cheap enough, we can move polluting industries into space and protect the Earth as a massive national park. (That idea has its skeptics and critics, too.)

Why send a software developer into space?

One of Shatner’s last appearances is as a spokesperson for a contest hosted by Rapyd, a developer of digital payment platforms. It’s called “Hack the Galaxy” and it calls on developers to solve biweekly coding challenges, and the winner can choose between a cash prize of $130,000 or the chance to participate in a 2026 flight operated by the startup Space Perspectives, which plans to transport customers about 100,000 feet high in a capsule attached to a balloon.

Shatner said he jumped on board with the idea because he wanted “problem solvers” to experience a transformative, joyful ride at high altitudes, just like he did.

“I want to get [these coders] interested in the development of the financial community, but then saying, ‘Why don’t you set your sights on carbon capture or, you know, one of the big problems? Hungry? Poverty?'” said Shatner.

Shatner’s Dinner with Stephen Hawking

Shatner said he has a new fascination with string theory — a popular idea that tries to explain quantum physics, or how subatomic particles behave, and how it fits in with more easily observable scientific ideas, such as gravity.

For the non-physicists among us, it’s incredibly difficult to understand. Shatner said that when he traveled to the UK to interview the famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking for a documentary, he wished he had dived into the subject. But Hawking, who was in a wheelchair and using a computer to speak due to a degenerative medical condition, had to have all the questions prepared in advance.

“I never got to ask him that question” about string theory, Shatner recalls. “But he had said when we made this appointment, ‘I want to ask Shatner a question.’ I lean forward, you know, we’re sitting side by side looking at the cameras… and he laboriously typed, ‘What’s your favorite episode?'”

Shatner, for the record, doesn’t have a favorite “Star Trek” episode and didn’t answer. But Hawking invited him to dinner anyway.

‘What are you doing? During dinner? With someone who can’t talk?’ Shatner laughed. “But I had a nice moment with him.”

For those curious, Shatner also summed up his musings on string theory, which holds that everything in the universe, at its most basic level, is composed of vibrating strings: “I think we are vibrating with the universe. It’s a matter of connecting ourselves.”