Going into space made William Shatner “cry” with grief.

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Going into space made William Shatner "cry" with grief.

This fall, he plans to release a book called Boldly Go, which publisher Simon and Schuster says is touted as a kind of philosophical reflection on his life, career, and the “connectedness of all things.” He’s also the face of a new programming competition that offers the winner the chance to travel more than 18 miles high in a spaceship-like capsule strapped to a balloon. (Yes, really.)

CNN Business caught up with the ‘Star Trek’ legend in a full interview this week. Here is a short summary.

Shatner was an invited guest of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on the second manned flight of New Shepard, the suborbital space tourism rocket developed by Bezos’ company Blue Origin. Upon his return, Shatner was visibly emotional. He described contemplating the empty, black expanse of the cosmos as “seeing death.”

“There’s Mother Earth and comfort, and then there’s … death,” he said at the time.

After the flight, he couldn’t stop crying, he said in an interview with CNN Business this week.

“It took me hours to understand what it was that made me cry,” he said. “I realized I was in mourning. I mourned the destruction of the earth.”

Shatner said he was deeply impressed by Silent Spring, biologist Rachel Carson’s 1962 book on environmental protection.

“It gets worse!” Shatner said the environmental crisis. “It’s like someone owes money on a mortgage and they don’t have the payments and they’re like, ‘Well, let’s go eat and not think about it.'”

What he thinks about billionaires in space

Companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Bezos’ Blue Origin – run by two of the richest men in the world – are often the target of criticism. Can space exploration, paved by the rich few, ever produce the kind of egalitarianism that Star Trek extols?

“That defeats the whole idea here,” Shatner said. “The whole idea is to get people used to space, like going to the Riviera. It’s not vanity. It’s a business.”

He also reiterated the goal Bezos has publicly stated: If we can make space travel cheap enough, we can move polluting industries to space and preserve Earth like a giant national park. (This idea also has its skeptics and critics.)

Why send a software developer into space?

One of Shatner’s recent appearances is speaking for a contest hosted by Rapyd, a developer of a digital payments platform. It’s called “Hack the Galaxy” and asks developers to solve bi-weekly coding challenges, and the winner can choose between a cash prize of $130,000 or a chance to take part in a flight in 2026, operated by startup Space Perspectives, which plans to carry customers about 100,000 feet up in a capsule attached to a balloon.

Shatner said he jumped on board with the idea because he wanted “problem solvers” to experience a transformative high-altitude ride just like him.

“I want to get [these coders] interested in developing the financial world, but then you’re like, ‘Why don’t you focus on carbon capture or, you know, one of the big issues? Hunger? Poverty?’” Shatner said.

Shatner’s dinner with Stephen Hawking

Shatner said he has a new fascination with string theory — a popular idea that tries to explain quantum physics, or how subatomic particles behave, and how it fits with more easily observable scientific ideas like gravity.

For the non-physicists among us, it’s incredibly difficult to understand. Shatner said that when he traveled to the UK to interview Stephen Hawking, the famous cosmologist, for a documentary, he wished he had delved into the subject. But Hawking, who was confined to a wheelchair due to a degenerative disease and used a computer to speak, had to prepare all the questions in advance.

“I could never ask him that question” about string theory, Shatner recalled. “But he said when we made that agreement, ‘I want to ask Shatner a question.’ I’m leaning in, you know, we’re sitting side by side and looking at the cameras… and he laboriously typed in, ‘What’s your favorite episode?'”

Shatner, for the record, does not have a favorite episode of Star Trek and has not responded to it. But Hawking invited him to dinner anyway.

“What are you doing? At dinner? With someone who can’t speak?” Shatner laughed. “But I had a nice moment with him.”

For the curious, Shatner also summarizes his thoughts on string theory, which posits that everything in the universe is made up of vibrating strings at its most basic level: “I think that vibrating with the universe is what connects us.”

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