William Shatner goes to space on Blue Origin mission

Spaceflight is inherently risky. Drumming up enough speed and strength to defy gravity requires rockets to use powerful, controlled explosions and complicate technology that always involves some uncertainties. 

“I’m really quite apprehensive,” William Shatner told CNN’s Anderson Cooper last week ahead of his trip to space. “There’s an component of chance here.”

From a physiological perspective, however, Shatner’s age — 90 — shouldn’t be an issue, according to Dorit Donoviel, the executive director of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH), a Baylor College of Medicine-led research group that partners with NASA.

Donoviel pointed to a series of studies in which people with pre-existing medical conditions, including seniors with heart conditions, who experienced up to 6Gs in a spinning centrifuge to simulate the crushing forces the body is put by during spaceflight.

“They were fine, they were perfectly fine,” Donoviel said. “The only thing — medical condition — that was of concern when they did those studies was really anxiety and definitely claustrophobia.”

Blue Origin passengers could experience up to 5.5Gs, which can make it difficult to breathe or move their hands and arms. But they won’t have the stress of piloting New Shepard, which is fully independent, so they can basically just sit there and wait out the most stressful portions of the journey. 

One thing that is absolutely crucial for them, however, is to get back in their seats as soon as mission control warns the passengers that the capsule’s three minutes of weightlessness are about to be over. As the spacecraft begins falling back to Earth and the crushing G-forces return, passengers who aren’t strapped into their seats and oriented in the proper position could risk injury.

“If they’re facing the [wrong] way, the G-forces could pull all the blood away from the head and go down to the feet, in which case the person would pass out,” Donoviel said.

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