William Shatner in Space

Earlier this week, William Shatner took a ride into space aboard a rocket built by Blue Origin, a company founded by Jeff Bezos, best known as the founder of Amazon. The rocket launched from outside Van Horn, Texas, a town about two and a half hours to the southeast of my home in New Mexico. As a long-time Star Trek fan, I thought it was great that Shatner, who brought the role of Captain Kirk to life, had the opportunity to go into space for real. What’s more, at 90 years old, Shatner is the oldest person to go into space. I’ve long thought, I hope to be doing as well as William Shatner when I’m 90!

Glen de Vries, Audrey Powers, William Shatner, and Chris Boshuizen in Space. Image courtesy Blue Origin

As a kid, when I first became aware of Star Trek, the last Apollo missions were still flying. I remember thinking that Star Trek was just another document of a real mission into space. My parents soon explained to me that it was all just make-believe, but in a way that excited me just as much. That made me pay attention to the opening credits and notice those writers who made up Star Trek’s vision of exploring space. In the end Star Trek’s captivating writing helped to launch my careers in both astronomy and writing. So, it should come as no surprise that I watched Shatner’s journey from the moment he entered the rocket until he landed again in west Texas near the launch site.

Some have criticized Jeff Bezos for investing his personal wealth in space flight rather than causes to help the planet. He’s argued that developing space flight is one way to help the planet. I think he has a point. Developing space technology has a long track record of creating other technologies that help us on the Earth. I also believe there’s no reason we can’t work on solutions to problems on Earth while developing space technology. We have no shortage of people. Among the challenges are training and directing them to places where they can do the most good.

This all noted, I don’t feel I can let Bezos completely off the hook. According to Yahoo Finance, Bezos’s income is somewhere in the ballpark of 110 billion dollars per year and he invests 1 billion of that in Blue Origin. To put his income in perspective, you only have to multiply minimum wage by a single digit to get to my income. You have to multiply minimum wage by six digits to get to Bezos’s income. Over a million people could be employed at better-than-minimum wage with his income alone.

There are plenty of reports that suggest working conditions for front-line workers at Amazon are not great. As an author I do business with Amazon. In the last year and a half, I’ve received several packages in poor condition. They look as though they were rushed out the door without care and some books have arrived in unsellable condition. This makes sense if workers are being rushed to get things out the door without concern for quality of service. I’ve also had to call Amazon at times to resolve issues. Most of the time, their representatives are very helpful, but I’ve had at least two instances where I asked them something that clearly went “off script.” They promised to call me back and simply didn’t. Again this smacks of putting perceived efficiency ahead of customer service.

Given what’s reported of Jeff Bezos’s salary and what that must imply for Amazon’s total profits, there must be room for Amazon to improve salaries, make conditions better for front-line workers, and improve service. Star Trek suggested that humans would be ready for space exploration when we learned to appreciate our own diversity and treat our fellow humans with respect and dignity. Sometimes making the planet better starts with how corporate executives and upper management treat and pay the people who are making them the money that allow them to invest in cool things like space exploration and who make it possible for someone like William Shatner to visit the final frontier.

10 comments on “William Shatner in Space

  1. Yeah, Shat’s definitely the man. One of those rare people who is not only a walking meme, but a hero to millions, he really is unique, and I’m glad he got to visit the Final Frontier, even if only to dip his toe in the pool.

    I was born in 1948, and turned nine 3 days after Sputnik was launched. The Space Race was on, and the science portion of my elementary school classes became a BIG deal. Boys brought in our air- and spacecraft models. Girls made craft projects about the solar system. We were into it in a way that I can’t remember before or since. As a child, I had been into Flash Gordon, Commando Cody, and the like, and my folks bought me a science book for kids with the lurid title of Rockets, Jets, Guided Missiles, and Space Ships. It was solid science for the day, with a bit of history, but much of it devoted to the advances made during the very recent WWII and after, with the V-2 research flights and all. But much like yourself, my child’s mind worked to reconcile book with fantasy. I remember one illustration of a V-2 with the nose cone jettisoned, descending by a parachute that had been deployed from the hole, and one of my friends asked me, “Why would they drop off their ray gun to have a parachute?” And even though the explanation was right there in the text, we struggled long and hard to explain that conundrum. Oh, to have that innocent child’s mind in this day and age!

    “…treat our fellow humans with respect and dignity?” Guess we’re not going to be ready for a while, then. I read a comment on a blog a few months back that said in reference to the upcoming Mars mission, “Why don’t we finish f***ing up this planet before we get started on another one?” Seems reasonable to me; complete one job, then move on to the next…

    An excellent post as always, though, covers a lot of ground in reasonable prose. Guess that’s why your blog is on my Hot List. Be safe, brother, and keep dreaming!

    • Thanks for dropping by, Jack and, as always, I enjoy your perspective and background. I also love seeing how similar our experiences were even when the details are different because of the few years that separate us.

      Our society definitely needs work. Among other things, we desperately need a cure for the ideological bipolar disorder our country suffers from. But, people do lead productive, forward-moving lives while getting help for these kinds of things — and maybe working toward all these goals will help us find a brighter future, whether or not it’s exactly like the one we imagined when we were kids!

      Stay safe and talk soon!

  2. Saw this on the news, loved it!!

  3. Seeing William Shatner is space is another thing I saw on Star Trek that later happened in real life. Those include the communicator/cell phone, a talking computer, and a machine translator (admittedly the real-life latter two are inferior to Star Trek’s, but the first works better).

    My connection to space flight is pretty distant. I was a trainee in an environmental lab testing electronic prototypes, some of which were used in the space program. Ironically, I learned later that one of the most important things I tested was engineered by the son of an actress I worked with. In turn, that actress has sold a script for the original Star Trek’s fourth season. That’s right, the fourth season that was never made.

    I was surprised to see you comment as much as you did about the tremendous difference in income in America. I learned it’s a fundamental part of America’s economic system, i.e., capitalism.

    I told a writer friend of mine that I had done well in math, but couldn’t make sense of economics. He told me of a writer friend of his who was an economist. That economist wrote that American economics did not make rational sense! He said the federal reserve system was originally created so that those who had a lot of money would continue to have a lot of money.

    Since the mid 1970s, the American Middle Class has been slowly getting poorer and poorer. The typical 1960s Middle Class young couple could buy their own home on one income. Now such a couple can’t buy their own home on two incomes. The gap between the average and the richest has widened a great deal in the last 45 years or so.

    • That’s neat to hear that you tested something engineered by the son of an actress who sold a script for Star Trek’s fourth season. I know a handful of scripts were purchased and they even dusted a few of them off when they started production on Star Trek: Phase II, though all were shelved again when that TV project became Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

      I don’t think a lot of people have a good grasp of the sheer scale of the wealthiest people’s incomes. Looking up and running these numbers for myself actually helped me appreciate it more and put it in perspective. Also, I know my income and I know Bezos’s, so I can make an “apples to apples” comparison.

      That noted, my point is if Amazon has enough money to disburse 110 billion dollars to Bezos annually, the company’s actual profits will be much more than that. As you say, economics is tricky business. Figuring the full scale of a company’s profits is often not a matter of simply looking up one number like figuring out a billionaire’s net income. But his income tells me, in short, Amazon ain’t hurting and could probably afford to hire a few more employees and pay those employees it has better. It could also worry a little less about how fast things make it out the door or making sure its phone bank employee aren’t sitting idle for a few minutes between calls. The “hit” to its profits ain’t likely to sink the company.

      That all noted, I do wish companies exhibited less income disparity. That alone would help some of these issues as well. I don’t necessarily begrudge Bezos a large income, but he could make less and still comfortably invest in Blue Origin and possibly other planet-positive projects as well.

  4. An even-handed article. Thank you. Many people here in the UK alone are really struggling and surviving on food banks. Bezos has never struggled, and never will. As for Shatner, yeah, I must admit I was pleased he got the opportunity.

    • Stories of people struggling to survive are heart breaking. And yes, Bezos and almost every other major CEO in America could live in luxury on only a fraction of their total personal income. It seems that money could be put to better use.

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