The Inverse Interview
William Shatner explains why he went to the edge of outer space
“I know nothing, but I’m filled with curiosity.”
PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP/Getty Images
Much has been written about William Shatner’s big personality.
From his public feuds to his overpowering presence to his longstanding work with charities like Greenpeace and Habitat for Humanity, the impact of Shatner’s fame has probably been far more good than bad. And when you’re gazing at the man face-to-face on Zoom, it doesn’t feel like you’re talking to an out-of-touch 90-year-old.
“All the clichés are there because they’re true.”
I saw William Shatner on stage at a Star Trek convention in April of 1994 when I was 12-years-old. Shatner was 63. Now, in 2021, I look older but Shatner doesn’t. But the post-space flight Shatner seems more down-to-Earth than ever.
“I don't wanna sound like the wise old man,” Shatner tells Inverse. “But I’m so cognizant of how I know that nobody knows anything. Especially me. I know nothing, but I'm filled with curiosity. All the clichés are there because they’re true. What we know more of now is exactly how small the Earth is.”
For Shatner, sharing this message is the mission of his Blue Origin flight. If it’s a publicity stunt, he views it as a publicity stunt for Mother Earth.
“[The Earth] is precious,” he says with conviction. “People should honor if not worship the Earth and its beauty.”
It’s hard to be cynical in the face of Shatner’s genuineness, which is part of what makes him such an icon. Watching the documentary, you get the sense that this isn’t about the Amazon brand at all — and even less to do with elevating his own stardom. Blue Origin probably needed Captain Kirk more than he needed them. And Shatner’s message is that extreme perspective is the only way to affect real change on Earth.
“Look at the evolution of space travel,” Shatner says. “Yuri Gagarin was shot in the air, and he said, ‘Wow it’s blue.’ That’s filled with discovery. And then we travel to the moon. If we can get this industry up into space, put the industry up there, we have to go through all these steps. If we can just have people working in space, and get the polluting industries up there, sending the electricity back down. We can use that power without polluting the planet, all because we started with Gagarin.’”
Just weeks after his historic flight — he’s the oldest person to have gone in space by a margin of 13 years — Shatner was back to doing appearances with Star Trek fans. The man who infamously told Star Trek fans to “get a life” on Saturday Night Live in 1986 apparently likes to hang out with Star Trek fans. Like, a lot.
His most intimate gatherings happen in Ticonderoga, New York at James Cawley’s famous Star Trek set tour, which meticulously reproduces the interiors of the classic USS Enterprise. Shatner celebrated his 90th birthday there in March of 2021, and right after his Blue Origin flight, he was back, sitting on a perfect reproduction of the bridge and chatting with fans.
“It blows your mind.”
“What happens is, it’s 30 or 40 people sitting around on the bridge,” Shatner says. “And we start to talk and I have no idea what we’re going to talk about. But I find if I ask someone why they’re there, invariably there’s something interesting about that person.”
Shatner describes having just met a man at the Star Trek Set Tour, nicknamed “Moe,” who began his life as a refugee in Senegal.
“40 years ago, he was a barefoot kid guiding goats with a stick, bringing goat milk to his baby brothers to keep them alive,” Shatner says with awe. “Now he’s a rocket engineer with Blue Origin, and it’s because he was inspired by Star Trek. It blows your mind. That’s the kind of thing that happens at those meetings. That’s why I keep doing them.” Shatner adds that an interview with Moe is forthcoming on his talk show, I Don’t Understand, which he finds time to record at least twice a week.
Despite his omnipresence in pop culture, Shatner appears to be content to signal boost the messages and stories of others. He’s constantly working, asking questions, and trying to keep his “curiosity” engaged. No matter what you think of William Shatner, his Blue Origin Flight proves one thing: Risk is still his business.