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'Star Trek' legend William Shatner actually visited space. It moved him deeply.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

William Shatner became famous for going where no man had gone before - on TV, of course, where he famously played Captain Kirk on "Star Trek." But last year, he actually did get to visit space in a capsule powered by the company Blue Origin. And when Shatner landed back on Earth, he said that he felt overcome with unexpected feelings.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILLIAM SHATNER: I was so filled with emotion about what just happened. I just - it's extraordinary.

CHANG: What Shatner saw during his journey had filled him with, quote, "overwhelming sadness" and one of the strongest feelings of grief he's ever felt. That's how he described it in his new memoir, "Boldly Go." William Shatner joins us now. Welcome.

SHATNER: Thank you. Thank you very much.

CHANG: Well, thank you for being with us. So, you know, we heard from astronauts who return from space talk about a deep emotional response. It's this thing called the overview effect, when you take in the planet from a distance and see it as this one integrated fragile system. Tell me what overcame you when you could see the planet from afar. What was that like?

SHATNER: Well, it wasn't the planet. It was the death that I saw in space and the life force that I saw coming from the planet - the blue, the beige and the white. And I realized one was death and the other was life. When I stepped out of the vehicle, I was overwhelmed by an emotion I couldn't identify right away. It was so unexpected. I was crying. I didn't know what I was crying about. It took me - I had to go off someplace and sit down and think, what's the matter with me? And I realized I was in grief.

CHANG: Can you put into words now, when you think about that moment after you...

SHATNER: Yes.

CHANG: ...Landed, why were you so profoundly sad?

SHATNER: Because I saw more clearly than I have, with all the studying and reading I've done, the writhing, slow death of Earth and we on it. And it'll take a few years for it to eclipse. But I dedicated my book, the "Boldly Go," to my great-grandchild, who's 3 now - coming 3 - and in the dedication saying it's them, that - those youngsters who are going to reap what we have sown in terms of the destruction of the Earth - I mean...

CHANG: Yes.

SHATNER: ...Everything. Everything. And in the meantime, we got a war, and we got the kind of politics that don't lead to a communal solution to global warming. It's - instead of getting better, it's getting worse. So I wept. I wept for the Earth because I realized it's dying.

CHANG: I can hear such passion in your words as you reflect on this planet, not just on this experience from a year ago. You are 91 now. Can I ask, does spaceflight rank among the most meaningful experiences you have ever had in your life, would you say?

SHATNER: Well, I would not have said that prior to coming down and feeling - I don't know what you'd call it - insight, revelation. It's not really a revelation 'cause I've known about this...

CHANG: Right.

SHATNER: ...Since Rachel Carson wrote her book, "Silent Spring." It's 60 years ago I've been talking about it. I mean, it's one thing to say, yes, you know, the Earth is so small. But when you drive cross-country, for example, as I have - I've done it in every which way many, many times. The roads are limitless. They disappear to the horizon, and you drive for an hour and they still disappear, and then you think, my God, that's going on forever. It isn't that at all. It's a little tiny rock with an onion skin air around it. That's how fragile it all is. It's so fragile. We hang by a thread. And it's a gossamer thread. It's a spider's thread. It isn't a cotton thread where you can see it. We're just dangling, and...

CHANG: Ever so delicately.

SHATNER: Ever so delicate.

CHANG: Well, it was such a pleasure to speak with you. William Shatner, "Star Trek" legend and, very briefly, an actual astronaut. His memoir...

SHATNER: Yes. Very briefly.

CHANG: ...Is called "Boldly Go." Thank you so much.

SHATNER: Thank you so much. Bye-bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Enrique Rivera
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.