'I felt all the beauty of Earth': Shatner recounts journey to space during Rosemont visit
Four days after reaching the final frontier, William Shatner was talking Sunday to a packed ballroom of fans in Rosemont.
"So here's what I've been doing, OK? I went up there and I came back down," Shatner said to thunderous applause from hundreds of attendees at the Wizard World Chicago pop culture convention.
The 90-year-old "Star Trek" actor and three crewmates blasted off Wednesday from Texas in a Blue Origin rocket whose capsule peaked just short of 66 miles above ground, turning James T. Kirk into a real astronaut with a 10-minute flight.
Shatner's flight came courtesy of Blue Origin founder and Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos, whom Shatner described Sunday as "a spectacular gentleman," a remark almost interrupted by feedback on his microphone. "See, I said something nice about Jeff Bezos ... that was Elon Musk, did that," Shatner quipped.
Shatner first protested the idea of making a space flight.
"I don't need the thrill of space, OK? I've swum with sharks and been married more than once," he said.
But he did become the world's oldest space tourist after two days of training, which he feared wouldn't get past sitting in the chair when he couldn't properly fasten what he called the crotch strap. "I began to feel like a failure," he said with a smile.
No training could prepare Shatner for unfastening his restraints and floating around the capsule.
"There are no words in the English language, nor in our experience, to tell you what weightlessness is," Shatner said, calling the sensation "antithetical" to anything else he has experienced.
The hardest part came before blastoff: Shatner and his crewmates had to walk up 11 flights of stairs to reach the rocket. "I don't even recognize the number 90," Shatner said of his age. "I'm 35, OK? Except when I got to the top of that gantry, and thought, 'OK, I'm 90 years old!'"
The jokes stopped when Shatner recounted what he saw from the capsule window. "Not the whirling galaxies and the black holes, and the magnificence and the mystery of space, no. What you see there is ominous," Shatner said. "That looked like death."
But below the void, he saw our blue orb. "And in that instant, I felt all the beauty of Earth."
Shatner ended his 30-minute monologue with a dire warning about global warming. "We can't bury our heads in the sand anymore," he said. "We are on the precipice of apocalypse."
Before leaving the stage, Shatner spoke to a mother in the audience carrying her 3-month-old daughter, and offered words of hope: "You're gonna be Simone Biles ... there's no telling what she's going to do with her life. And it's a beautiful thing, and that's the life we've got to give her," he said.
Sunday's appearance came on the final day of Wizard World, the annual pop-culture convention at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. It will be rebranded next year as Fan Expo Chicago under new ownership.