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Shatner Set to Become Oldest Person in Space; U.S. to East Border Restrictions; Companies in Texas Defy Abbott's Mandate; Chris Hadfield is Interviewed about the Space Launch. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 13, 2021 - 09:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You'll be watching it very closely.


BERMAN: Adrian Zmed, thank you so much.

ZMED: I am thrilled. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

BERMAN: All right, and the launch of this spaceship with William Shatner on board is just one hour away. You're looking at live pictures.

CNN's coverage continues now.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good space age Wednesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Erica Hill, planted firmly on earth.

We're going to have to stay on earth, but pretty soon going boldly where no 90-year-old has gone before, one William Shatner one hour from now. The legendary actor known, of course, for his iconic role as "Star Trek's" Captain Kirk set to make history in a real-life space journey beaming up aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket. Shatner will become the oldest person to travel to the edge of space.

SCIUTTO: While we wait for our own invitations, moments ago Shatner and his three crewmates, they arrived at the site from a remote stretch in west Texas where these launches come from, originally scheduled on Tuesday, postponed a day due to dangerous, rough winds. The 90-year-old Shatner tells CNN's Anderson Cooper ahead of the launch, he's understandably anxious before hurdling into space at three times the speed of sound. That's more than 2,200 miles an hour. And he'll go 62 miles above the earth.

Have a listen.


WILLIAM SHATNER, 90-YEAR-OLD SET TO BECOME OLDEST PERSON IN SPACE: My fear is, as you go up, that you can't draw a breath. Now, that apparently is not going to happen. But that's what they say. I'm really quite apprehensive, as you might have guessed.


SCIUTTO: The power of g forces. Well, today will mark Blue Origin's, that is the private space flight company founded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the second launch of an all civilian crew. Bezos and his brother and two others, you may remember, took Blue Origin's inaugural flight less than three months ago. We broadcast that live as well.

CNN's space and defense correspondent Kristin Fisher, she's at the launch site in Van Horn, Texas.

So after a 24 hour delay, we're just minutes away from a new scheduled time. Are conditions there, Kristin, favorable for the launch today?

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: It's a little chilly but not a lot of wind, which is exactly the thing that has caused those two delays up until this point. But as of now, all systems are go. And, you know, Jeff Bezos has been a fan of "Star Trek" since he was a kid. You know, it's part of the reason he became so interested in space. It's part of the reason that he ultimately founded this company, Blue Origin. And so it's quite fitting that he is getting able to -- he's able to send his childhood hero into space on his company's second crude launch.

And so what we're going to see here today is very similar to what we saw when Jeff Bezos himself launched into space back in July. This is a quick, suborbital trip, just about ten minutes long from start to finish. Only about four minutes of weightlessness. But this crew of four people, they will, indeed, cross the carmen line. That's the historical marker, the defining line between the boundary of space and earth's atmosphere. And so they are going to cross that line, but they are not going to go fully into orbit, which is what we saw SpaceX's Inspiration Four crew do just a few weeks ago.

And so it is really just incredible to think about the fact that we have had six crude launches from U.S. soil in just six months after nearly a decade of zero human space flights from U.S. soil. And so one of the other crew members on this mission, Glen de Vries, he says that 2021, this year, is going to go down in history as the moment when humanity finally began moving into space at scale. And we're still quite a few ways at the very beginning of that, a little ways away from that. But he believes that this is going to be the beginning. And so Glen de Vries, he's one of those two paying customers on board this flight, along with a Blue Origin employee, Audrey Powers. But William Shatner, the big star today.

Erica and Jim.

HILL: Yes, he certainly is. A lot of -- a lot of the attention having that big name. No surprise why they invited him on board.

Kristin Fisher, appreciate it. We'll continue to check in with you.

Joining us now to discuss, Miles O'Brien, CNN aviation and aerospace analyst. He's also an award winning science journalist.

Miles, great to see you, as always.

I'm just curious, as we look at this and where we are right now, let's put all the controversy aside for a moment, how important are these launches, are these efforts when it comes to not only space exploration, but also just, you know, sort of the knowledge that can be gained from these efforts?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION AND AEROSPACE ANALYST: Yes, you know, Erica, it's really about easy and relatively cheap access to space. You know, I think people see the billionaires, you know, with their bragging rights and trash talking each other about who's first with what, and the spectacle of bringing William Shatner on board adds to the whole kind of circus-like atmosphere.


And I think those of us who appreciate the value that space brings our planet kind of have to hold our nose a little bit and get through all this because this is how it begins. You start with the rich people and the famous people and then, as time goes on, and you become better and doing this more frequently, the price goes down and more of us get a chance to be there. And that doesn't just mean tourism, it means ubiquitous sensors that can track climate change or look outward for an asteroid that might be headed our way. And if you think that's not a problem, ask the next dinosaur you run into.

So, we need to think about space as a tool for our planet. And believe it or not, sending William Shatner into space does help that. That is one step along the way.

SCIUTTO: Well, we're looking at live pictures there about 55 -- 54 minutes away from the launch, at launch site one in west Texas.

Miles, you made the point before on this broadcast when we were covering the last Blue Origin launch that that's actually the way commercial air travel began, right, as the denizen of the very wealthy. And, of course, over time it became something that all of us had access to.

This is still a very tiny group of folks who can even think about the cost of this. And, by the way, there's pictures of Shatner and his fellow crewmates, again, less than an hour before they march into that capsule atop the rocket there.

How long is it before this is something that it comes down in price to something that's accessible. I mean is s that years? Is it decades?

O'BRIEN: Well, I -- yes, it's really hard to see that day right now, Jim. This is still expensive stuff. And, you're right, relative to the income getting on a Ford trimotor in the '20s is not the same as these, you know, in some cases multimillion dollar seats on orbital flights. But it will get better, and it will get cheaper as time goes on. And you have to think about the ancillary aspects which don't involve putting tourists into space, which is they -- the more efficient rockets, the fact that you can make payloads smaller and more ubiquitous in space, to, you know, look at climate change and its trends or, for that matter, to avoid space junk for other spacecraft.

You know, the thing about airline travel is, you know, people needed to get to Cleveland, right? Do we need to go to space? Well, right now that's kind of like going to Mt. Everest, right? It's kind of the ultimate bragging right. And that will build a business for a little while. And making that transition into something more widespread is tricky.


HILL: It's interesting, Chris Boshuizen, who is one of the -- one of the folks going up today, he's the one with his back turned to us right now, he told me earlier this week, and he's talked a lot about this, this was his dream from the time that he was four years old. He was color blind, you know, couldn't work, but he's really dedicated a significant portion of his life to not only, you know, technology and engineering, and he worked at NASA, but really to engaging kids and getting kids excited about STEM. And I'm thinking, that too could really come out of this. It's not just the people going up in the rockets, right, who are involved, but there are so many other positions that kids watching today could maybe think about and how they could get engaged, Miles.


O'BRIEN: Yes. Yes, go -- yes, go back to the first space race. Look at what happened immediately after Sputnik in 1957. You know, about a billion dollars, which, at the time was a big deal, spent on education across this nation to inspire young people to seek jobs in science and engineering. Only a tiny, tiny fraction of those young people ended up going to space, but it created industries, not just right at NASA, but ancillary industries which we don't have time to even list by even a long shot here.

So, the fact that it inspires young people to seek careers in this business, that it's cool to go to work for Blue Origin or SpaceX, that idea is important and it's really hard to put that piece of it in the bottom line. It's never been really tracked. But we know for a fact, you talked to a lot of the people, these engineers, you talk to the astronauts, what were they inspired by. They were inspired in my generation by Apollo and today young people are looking at these now -- these 20 somethings who are aging these missions and saying, I want to be a part of that as well. And that's a nice ancillary benefit to say the least.

SCIUTTO: No question.

Question for you, Miles O'Brien, are they astronauts, right? I mean they're going the edge of space, 62 miles above the earth. They're not going into orbit. They're not in control of anything here.


They're not flying the ship. That said, you know, going back to the Mercury astronauts, right,

there was discussion at the time, right, they weren't flying those rockets either. Do you call them astronauts?

O'BRIEN: I'm a little bit of a purist on this, Jim. I think just because I sit in -- you know, even if I get an upgrade into first class on delta, I'm not the pilot. So even though I am a pilot. So I think, you know, as Shatner said the other day, I'm here for some rehearsals. And Anderson Cooper corrected him and said, that's actually called training. So that should tell you a little bit, if he doesn't even know that it's training, maybe he's not an astronaut officially, right?

SCIUTTO: Understood.

HILL: I will say, he did tell me, he thinks he's an astronaut, little a, followed by two ss. That's the way Shatner answered the question. I'll let you sit with that, Miles.

SCIUTTO: Yes, listen --

O'BRIEN: It's good TV (ph).

SCIUTTO: I wouldn't turn down the invitation regardless of the definition.

O'BRIEN: No. No.

SCIUTTO: Maybe you as well. Miles. And, by the way, Miles, I know that you -- you know, there was a time when you, prior, of course, to the Columbia tragedy, who had a chance to go up to space too.

Miles, please stay with us. There's a lot more to discuss.

Again, you're looking at a live picture there. Less than 50 minutes now before that rocket takes off.

There is other news that we are following this hour, and it's good news for fully vaccinated travelers. The U.S. is preparing to reopen its borders to visitors from Canada and Mexico early next month.

HILL: Now, this comes, of course, as the numbers, the case numbers in this country continue to improve. Look at that map there. So much green, which is nice to see. Forty-four states showing that their seven-day average of new cases is either holding steady or, as you see in green, on the decline.

Joining us now, CNN's Priscilla Alvarez with more on this announcement. So it's a long-awaited decision for travelers here. What's the actual timeline, Priscilla?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN REPORTER: Well, the actual timeline is early November. So we're only weeks away. But this is a monumental change for border communities who rely on cross border travel. And it's going to happen in a phased way. So officials say that starting in early November, fully vaccinated,

foreign visitors that will be allowed to travel across land borders with Canada and Mexico for nonessential reasons. That is visiting family or friends or coming by for tourism.

And then, in early January, those who are traveling for essential purposes will also have to meet the vaccine requirements, say for cross border trade, which has been allowed to continue over the course of the pandemic. Officials also said that they are waiting for a decision from the CDC on which vaccines will be accepted, though they anticipate that FDA and WHO authorized and approved vaccines will be allowed.

Jim and Erica.

SCIUTTO: We'll be watching. Certainly good news to those travelers. Also probably the airlines and others who might be carrying them.

Priscilla, thanks so much.

HILL: Yes, great news for a lot of families there.

Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, Dell Computers, just a few of the companies who have said they plan to defy Texas Governor Greg Abbott's new ban on vaccine mandates.

SCIUTTO: It's one thing we hear consistently, right, some of the companies welcome these mandates.

CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans joins us now with more.

And, Christine, you and I have spoken about this, right, that quietly, before the Biden administration imposed these new mandates for companies, that the companies were saying, hey, yes, please do go ahead, this kind of helps us out here. So we're seeing this play out in public now in Texas.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, you know, the federal mandate really gave some of these big companies cover, right, so that they could move forward and cut their healthcare costs and cut truancy and cut all of these, you know, people being out of work because of COVID related issues. This was something that big business really wanted.

And now you have the governor of Texas essentially creating confusion with his own mandate at odds with the federal mandate. This is exactly what businesses did not want to be in -- they did not want to be in this position at all. And it's also a little bit interesting, and this is something that you've heard from a lot of business leaders. You know, they have been told again and again that Texas is a pro-business state. But now you have the governor of Texas telling businesses in Texas how to run their business. And that's an interesting position here to be in. So you will see American, you will see Southwest, who are going to go with the federal guidelines, which will mean they will be at odds with the Governor Abbott's guidelines and you got some big healthcare systems who have said, no, they will continue with their mandates for their employees, especially in the healthcare systems, and now other companies that have big plants or do a lot of business in Texas, those CEOs, those executives are figuring out how they're going to -- you know, how they're going to square a federal mandate that they support with this new mandate against a vaccine mandate from Governor Abbott.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, the other input here, right, is that the mandates are actually encouraging vaccinations in a number of context, and that's helping stem, right, the delta surge.

Christine Romans, great to have you on.

ROMANS: Nice to see you.

SCIUTTO: Any moment now we are expecting to see William Shatner and the rest of the Blue Origin crew make their way onto the launchpad. That's a live picture there.


We're going to bring that to you live as soon as it happens.

We're also going to speak to retired astronaut, Commander Chris Hadfield, who has actually known Shatner for years and has his own experience going into space. Hear what advice he gave him before today's flight.


HILL: There you see William Shatner, who just got into this vehicle, this Blue Origin vehicle, which is being driven by none other than Jeff Bezos, as this crew of four makes their way over there to the launchpad where, of course, they'll get in atop that New Shepard rocket.

There you see Jeff Bezos in the driver's seat.


HILL: Next to him, I believe that is Glen de Vries, ready to go.

Our Kristin Fisher is, of course, there in west Texas at the launch site.

Kristin, a lot -- a lot of buildup to this moment. Did we know that Jeff Bezos was going to drive them?

FISHER: We did not. And, you know, one of the other things that we're watching right now is that the countdown clock has just hit a hold. Unclear exactly why. You'll remember on Sunday, Blue Origin announced that there was a one-day delay due to high winds. We're in the middle of a desert here in west Texas, wide open spaces. Not a lot of rain, which is good, but there is quite a bit of wind. And so that wind caused one delay from Tuesday to Wednesday and then there was a second delay of about 30 minutes. So wind has been a big concern here. It's not too bad from what I can tell, where I'm standing, a few miles

away from the launchpad, but certainly something to watch. I'm not in any way saying that that is the reason for this delay that we're seeing right now. This hold.

But you can see the crew very happy, excited. Jeff Bezos in the driver's seat laughing.


And, you know, this is really a moment for Jeff Bezos being able to send one of his childhood heroes into space. Captain Kirk, and the "Star Trek" franchise, was one of the things that inspired Jeff Bezos to get into space and build this company. And so he's talked quite a bit about how special this moment is for him, just three months after he himself launched into space.

And so, in just a few minutes, the crew should be going to the launchpad. You can see the New Shepard rocket right there. And they've spent the last several days, since Saturday, just a few miles away in the astronaut village.

Jim and Erica.

SCIUTTO: Kristin Fisher, thanks so much. I do like to see how they have those three astronauts kind of crammed together in the back seat with William Shatner riding the hump there.

FISHER: Right.

HILL: That's -- he got stuck in the middle.

SCIUTTO: Listen, you know, he's about to hop on a rocket, so I guess the -- you know, the short ride to the rocket, who cares?

There is an important moment here, though, because we do see that now for more than five minutes that "H" for hold time, the countdown has been put on hold at just about 45 minutes and now ticking up on how long it has been put on hold.

We're joined now by Chris Hadfield. He's former commander of the International Space Station. He has certainly a lot of experience in space.

I wonder, Chris, if we can begin by your sense of how significant it is to have a hold at this stage so close to launch.

COL. CHRIS HADFIELD (RET.), FORMER COMMANDER OF INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION: Well, holds are better to have, Jim, than not to have. And a lot of launch profiles, they actually plan a hold period where nothing happens just so if you got behind, you could now use that hold time to catch up.

But you want to make sure everything's right. This is only the 18th time this rocket has ever launched. You know, there have only been 17 previous ones. So it's still a brand-new machine. And they're working super hard to try and make sure the rocket's going to work right. And, wind, you know, if you get a wind shear, half -- partway up the launch and suddenly you run into the jet stream or something, it can be really disruptive to how well the rocket can control itself. And they've got a lot of stuff to watch. And if they're looking at something, you know, Bill Shatner's 90 years old, he could wait a couple more hours or another day before a launch if he has to.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes.

HILL: If he -- if he has to.

You know, it's important, I think, what you point out, there have been 17 launches, but only one other, of course, crude launch, which we saw back in July. I know that, as Jim pointed out, you've known Shatner for years. As I understand it, you know, you've also, you know, been in touch with him, texting with William Shatner ahead of the launch. He told me the other day he was, you know, comfortable but uncomfortable at the same time, especially with more time to think about this with the delay.

Just give us a sense, in your -- in your texts with him, how is he feeling and what kind of advice have you -- have you given him?

HADFIELD: Well, you know, he's taken center stage literally his whole life. But someone else has always written his lines for him and he's learned them. We had a terrific journeyman actor. Today he's much more helpless if you think about it. You know, he is completely at the whim of how things unfold. And he is powerless to do anything about it. He is just a passenger on board this rocket.

It's a thrilling experience. And I'm really -- I mean he is a friend and it's -- you know, he's excited about it. I'm delighted. But just right now, you know, he's putting on a good face, but he's about to take a very large risk and he doesn't really have any control over any soliloquies that are in the middle of it. So I'm sure he's feeling butterflies very strongly. And when he lies down in the seat on board the vehicle, that's when he's really going to feel some introspection.

SCIUTTO: The hold on this launch now ticking up towards eight minutes, I believe, as we wait for updates as to what has led to the hold.

I do want to ask you, Chris Hadfield, you know, there's certainly a Hollywood aspect to this. After all, there's a Hollywood actor who is on board. There is a business promotional aspect. I mean this is a for-profit company.

I want to ask you, on the science side, you're someone whose space career tied to the International Space Station, which is a science gathering mission. Do you see a scientific benefit, right, for these for-profit, private launches going to space?

HADFIELD: Well, all the companies that built the space vehicles have been for-profit up until now. All the vehicles that I flew to space in were for-profit. So that hasn't really changed.

SCIUTTO: I see. HADFIELD: What's really changed is the price has come down far enough now that a private citizen, still, you have to be a wealthy, private citizen, but a private citizen can buy a ticket. That's the real change.

It's not like there's any shortage of space to explore or anything. There's going to be huge, eternal work for professional astronauts. And Miles was making the good distinction between that previously. So I'm not worried about that at all.

And it's like working in any great government facility if the occasional tourist comes through and wants to have a look, then, you know, that's fine. That's normal. That's good, human curiosity. So I think there's lots of room in space for both of these things.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes, Chris, Erica, to Chris' point, we've asked, my colleague and I, Space Command how they feel about these private operations and they say they're happy to see it, right, because it gives Space Command, the defense industry other options to get into space that -- rather than the government-run missions, Erica.


So, it's interesting. It's a point we've heard for many folks involved.

HILL: Yes, absolutely.

And, Miles, as we look at this too, in terms of opening up those opportunities, we had touched on this a little earlier, but I think it's so interesting to go back to as we see this renewed focus on space, as we see this renewed focus on engineering, on STEM with kids, I know that's a focus for a number of the folks who will be on board this launch today.

But, Miles, just put in perspective for us, you talked about -- a little bit about how things changed after Sputnik. What do you think this -- these moments, right, as we're seeing more launches and more efforts from these private companies, what that could change?

O'BRIEN: Just about everything in space if you think about it. You know, I go back about 20 years to the X Prize, the Ansari X Prize. That was the flights that, at that time, scaled composites, but (INAUDIBLE) staged two flights. The idea was to do two in as many weeks and did it in like ten days' time. And we all thought, gosh, we'll be doing this, like, next year. And it's taken some time, which is a reminder that this is difficult stuff and that's what makes it interesting and worth doing.

So here we are, 20 years later, and it seems like this is just kind of happening overnight. But it's taken a long, long time to get here. And I think this year and these flights will be pivotal moments that will be kind of looked at as one of those Sputnik kind of moments. Those pivotal moments in time, a milestone, so to speak. And I think from here on out, space becomes a very different place. SCIUTTO: Commander Chris Hadfield, Miles O'Brien, please stay with us.

We're going to continue to follow the launch. And, again, now, we're up above 11 minutes it looks like now on this hold. They're waiting for updates, Erica, as to what's behind it.

HILL: Yes, and we're waiting for not only to find out what's behind that hold, but then once, of course, it's lifted, we're waiting to see William Shatner and his crew make their way out there to the launchpad. We saw them in the truck with Jeff Bezos at the wheel. I misspoke, it was actually Chris Boshuizen who was riding shotgun there in the truck.

We're going to continue to follow this. As Jim said, we're going to take a quick break. When we come back, the latest from west Texas and this historic launch just ahead.