Salary Survey Extra is a series of dispatches that give added insight into the findings of our annual Salary Survey. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.
Space tourism is a nut that billionaires have been attempting to crack for decades, but the 21st-century space race got heated last summer as long-locked Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson and baldheaded Amazon overlord Jeff Bezos competed to be the first richest guy on the planet to get off the planet. Branson beat Bezos to the edge of the final frontier by nine days.
You don't get to the point of selling everything to everybody by settling for second-best, however, and Bezos figured out a surefire way to eclipse the news headlines trumpeting both his own and Branson's groundbreaking ascents to the heavens. Billionaires are household names to some, of course, but it takes an entertainer to be really famous: a rock star, an artist, an author, an athlete, or perhaps best of all, an actor.
And if you're an actor who is famous for pretending to zoom around the galaxy in a spaceship? An actor whose make-believe adventures inspired an entire generation of actual scientists, astronomers, and astronauts to gaze at the stars? Well, that guy is simply an obvious candidate for the most expensive publicity stunt since the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Star Trek, in all of its many iterations, has already been with us for long enough that we're on our third Captain James T. Kirk. Vampire Diaries star Paul Wesley will inherit Kirk's golden command tunic from actor Chris Pine — who played the role in three feature films — for Season 2 of the Star Trek spinoff series Strange New Worlds. That show won't even have its premiere until May 4, but there's already going to be a Season 2 because, duh, of course there is.
There's no Kirk like the primordial Kirk, of course. Canadian actor William Shatner originated the role in 1965 and was only 90 years old as of last October (he turned 91 earlier this week on Tuesday). So Bezos' obvious pick to send someone else to space once he'd visited himself was right there in plain sight. About the only more iconic way to celebrate Shatner's most famous role would have been to invent teleportation and beam him somewhere.
Wouldn't you know it, news of Shatner's planned historic adventure broke just as the 2022 Salary Survey was entering the on-deck circle. So right at the moment when our crack Salary Survey team was sitting around attempting to come up another of those delightful end-of-survey questions that we like to mess around with, well, this was a gift from the heavens. Or perhaps more appropriately a gift to the heavens.
Shatner completed his fantastic voyage on October 13, so we actually ended up asking a fair number of Salary Survey respondents to express their initial reaction to the announcement of something that had already taken place by the the time they got to the survey. We'll consider that a technicality, much like the definition of, you know, what really, actually counts as going to space. The Shat got to 66 miles above the surface of the Earth, and that's good enough for us.
Here's what we learned:
Q: Spaceflight company Blue Origin is about to take Captain Kirk actor William Shatner into outer space (sort of). My first question is:
They named the rocket, "Enterprise," right? — 24.6 percent
Do the Klingons know about this? — 24.3 percent
Scientifically speaking, what is the total number of jokes that will now be cracked that involve both Shatner's age (90) and the phrase "five-year mission?" — 17.5 percent
So I guess Jeff Bezos is a huge Trekkie? — 15 percent
What about Chekov, Sulu, and Uhura? They're all still alive, too. — 13.8 percent
For that matter, so is Chris Pine. — 4.8 percent
So, no, Captain Kirk did not make his maiden voyage aboard a rocket with the same name as the signature Star Trek starship. Blue Origin (Bezos' space travel venture) took him up in a vessel named First Step. We'll all have to content ourselves with the knowledge that a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier and a space shuttle have already been christened in honor of movie and TV space exploration's most famous vessel.
The Klingons are sort of the Branson to Kirk's Bezos, so they probably didn't miss the fact that their arch-nemesis came one step (a First Step?) closer to actually encountering them. (We'll get there someday, fellas.) Meanwhile we didn't happen to watch all of the late night TV shows last fall, but we're confident that the low-hanging "five-year mission" fruit (a reference to Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry's optimistic and narratively integrated planned timeline for the original series) didn't just stay on the tree.
Bezos is indeed a huge Trekkie. So huge, in fact, that he successfully lobbied Paramount Pictures to give him a one-line speaking role as an alien Starfleet officer in Star Trek Beyond, the third of the Chris Pine Star Trek movies. Maybe his fandom means that there's still a chance for 85-year-old Walter Koenig (Chekov), 84-year-old George Takei (Sulu), 89-year-old Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), and 41-year-old Pine to each boldly go where their captain has now gone before.