LONGUEUIL, Que. – There was a surreal moment in outer space as the man who played Captain James T. Kirk chatted Thursday with a real-life astronaut aboard the International Space Station.
William Shatner, the Canadian-born actor of “Star Trek” fame, was beamed up for a chat by phone with Chris Hadfield, who is currently on a five-month space voyage.
The actor asked serious questions about Hadfield’s hopes for space travel, his fears, and the emotions he felt as he stared out from beyond Earth.
They also exchanged a few jokes.
Shatner quipped that if he flopped while performing, the worst thing that could happen to him is to sweat a little bit. “In your case,” he told Hadfield, “you burn up.”
He also asked Hadfield how he felt, being away from his home planet for so long. That prompted a philosophical reply from the astronaut about how far humanity has come since the original “Star Trek” era.
Hadfield responded that in the 1960s, having a phone chat with someone in outer space was the stuff of science fiction.
Today, Hadfield said, it’s a reality and it helps make astronauts feel more closely connected to loved ones back home.
Any hopes of turning the encounter into a Canadian heritage minute, however, may have been scrubbed with Shatner’s first question.
When the Montreal-born actor asked the Sarnia, Ont.-born astronaut about having to thumb a ride on a Russian rocket to get to the space station, he appeared to refer to them both as Americans.
“You’re on the International Space Station, but you had to get there in a Russian vehicle,” said Shatner, who has lived in the U.S. for decades.
“Are we, as America, fallen behind or is this just a pause in our space program?”
The last of the U.S. space shuttles to carry astronauts up to the orbiting space lab was retired in 2011. Hadfield replied that although the U.S. was in a “post-shuttle era,” astronauts are not grounded thanks to the international co-operation that built the space station.
The 10-minute chat began with a Trekkie moment, as the link was first established with Shatner in Los Angeles.
On the old TV series, the USS Enterprise would use the sound of a boatswain’s whistle to signal the beginning of a hail between space ships. Hadfield produced that sound and identified himself as “the space research vessel ISS in Earth Orbit.”
For his part, the 81-year-old actor referred to the dangers of space travel — such as the possibility Hadfield might “burn up.” Shatner has admitted in the past that he’s not actually enthralled with the idea of extraterrestrial voyage.
Hadfield replied that it was a risk he decided to take many years ago.
“To accomplish anything is life is going to take risk,” said the 53-year-old astronaut. “Some things are really worth directing your life towards and putting your life on the line for.”
He added that he was inspired by the character that Shatner portrayed on TV.
The actor concluded by expressing regret that time had run out, and he suggested they continue their chat over whiskey and a cigar back on Earth.
That was a reference to a more recent TV series starring Shatner, “Boston Legal,” which would end each episode with whiskey and a cigar.
While Shatner chatted by phone, Hadfield was visible on a video link that was broadcast on the Canadian Space Agency’s website.
Hadfield later took questions from 30 space enthusiasts who were joined by astronaut Jeremy Hansen at the agency, in suburban Montreal.
Hansen said he was impressed to learn that Hadfield had been influenced by Shatner’s artistic talents.
“I was very inspired by watching things like Star Trek and Star Wars growing up and imagining myself on these grand voyages,” said Hansen, a rookie astronaut.
“It also dawned on me that guys like William Shatner were probably inspired by real space missions.”
Hadfield has been beaming back photos of the Earth from the space station since he arrived there at the end of last year.
In mid-March, he will become the first Canadian to command the football-field-sized space lab.