Bill Wineke: Captain Kirk Inspires Anew

When I learned that billionaire Jeff Bezos was planning to shoot Captain Kirk into space, I thought it was one of the dumbest publicity stunts of the year.

William Shatner, the star of the original Star Trek television series, is now 90 years old, fat, and kind of a joke on television commercials.

Besides, if I were going to pick a Star Trek captain, it would be Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard, who is only 81 and who makes funnier commercials.

Besides, spending 10 minutes in “space” 60 miles up is hardly a matter of “Boldly Going” where none has gone before.

Then I watched the Blue Origin rocket blast off and the passenger capsule parachute to earth and my heart stuck in my throat. It was thrilling in a way I haven’t felt since the original moon mission.

It’s not that I have any desire to ride a rocket into space. It’s just that, if I wanted to do so, I could. I’d have to cash in my retirement account, but, if I really wanted to, I could buy a seat on a rocket.

My grandfather was born before automobiles hit the streets. My mother was born before air travel was common. I was born before Sputnik. It is quite conceivable that my grandson will fly in space.

That’s always been a theoretical possibility. But, if a 90-year-old actor can make it up and down and walk away with a big grin on his face, then it’s just a matter of time before space travel will become commonplace.

As Shatner observed in an appearance on the “Tonight Show” Thursday, you no longer have to be an astronaut, you can be a half-astronaut.

Bezos and the other billionaires who are financing these ego trips are taking a lot of criticism for wasting their money when the world has real problems. I’ve never really considered that criticism valid.

They got rich by creating products and services people want to buy. During the pandemic, many of us relied on Amazon to bring the world to our doorsteps while avoiding risking our lives in public places.

I certainly agree with those who would tax the rich at a much higher rate than they now pay. But, after paying his taxes, it is Bezos’ money and he should have the right to spend it in legal ways however he wishes, just as I spend my after-tax income as I wish.

By making space travel available to mere mortals, however, Bezos and the other space entrepreneurs are opening new opportunities for mankind that we cannot yet see or, even, envision. That’s what trains did. That’s what automobiles and airplanes did.

The nation’s original investment in NASA ended up with innovations that make modern life possible but the next wave may make it survivable.