of “Star Trek” fame didn’t see any Klingons or Romulans during his recent trip to outer space, but he’s now firing a few photon torpedoes at another enemy of the whole enterprise. This week Britain’s
without mentioning any names, told a BBC interviewer: “We need some of the world’s greatest brains and minds fixed on trying to repair this planet, not trying to find the next place to go and live.”
The BBC journalist then mused about the carbon footprint presumably created by a rocket flight for leisure, which Prince William agreed was a “fundamental question.” What rubbish, as the Brits say.
For one thing, exactly zero Earthlings are “giving up and heading out into space,” as Prince William put it. Certainly Mr. Shatner isn’t, judging by his remarks upon landing about the precariousness of Earth’s atmosphere. “It’s so thin,” he said, “and you’re through it in an instant.”
As for the carbon footprint, it isn’t what you imagine. Mr. Shatner went up on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket, which burns liquid hydrogen and oxygen. “The main emissions will be water and some minor combustion products, and virtually no CO2,” an atmospheric scientist told LiveScience.com in July. That isn’t to claim no effects: Building the rocket and producing the flight creates carbon emissions, no doubt, but so does putting on a royal wedding with a crowd of global guests and a military flyover.
The larger point is what the prince’s cramped view of private spaceflight says about the lowering of human ambitions. Think of the British mountaineer
who was asked in the 1920s why he wanted to try scaling Mount Everest. His reported reply echoes through history: “Because it’s there.” We can imagine Mallory’s answer if someone had scolded him to quit running away to a mountaintop, since we have real issues down here at sea level.
That seems to be the spirit of Captain
response to Prince William. “He’s a lovely, gentle, educated man, but he’s got the wrong idea,” Mr. Shatner told Entertainment Tonight. “The idea here is not to go, ‘Yeah, look at me. I’m in space!’” He said the Blue Origin flight was simply another “baby step” into the heavens.
After the Space Shuttle retired in 2011, the U.S. ended up paying Russia to take astronauts to orbit. Isn’t it better to have American billionaires competing for that business? And who knows what might come next. Mr. Shatner floated the idea of electricity generation in the heavens: “You can build a base 250, 280 miles above the Earth and send that power down here.” Beam it down, Scotty.
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Appeared in the October 16, 2021, print edition.