Blue Origin launches 6 passengers to the edge of space and back
Jeff Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin kicked off its fourth New Shepard crewed flight on Thursday, a 10-minute thrill ride to the edge of space carrying the spacecraft’s chief designer and five entrepreneurs/adventurers, including a husband and wife who shared an emotional kiss on the high border.
Running two days late due to high winds at the company’s West Texas launch site, the stubby New Shepard rocket’s hydrogen main engine sprung to life at 9:58 a.m. EDT, accelerated to full thrust and propelled the spacecraft atop a fiery exhaust jet.
Gary Lai, one of the first employees of Blue Origin and the architect of the New Shepard program, has been added to the team in place of the comedianafter a launch delay and a scheduling conflict forced the ‘Saturday Night Live’ star to pull out.
Joining Lai for the sub-orbital flight were philanthropists and space enthusiasts Marc and Sharon Hagle; Jim Kitchen, professor at the University of North Carolina and world traveler; George Nield, president of Commercial Space Technologies and former director of NASA and the FAA; and “angel investor” Marty Allen.
Cabin video released after the flight showed the crew frolicking in weightlessness, marveling at the sight as the Hagles took a moment to share a heartfelt hug and kiss.
“Oh my god, that was amazing,” she said of the flight. “I can’t wait to get home and share it with all the kids.”
“When the engine fired up, my energy level skyrocketed,” her husband said. “And then when you get into space and you start to see the blue marble, as everyone describes it, in the blackness of space, there’s no way to describe it. Our grand- kids have been asking us about it…and it’s just hard to describe.” ,
“And it was great to have a partner with you!” said Sharon Hagle.
Despite a few unexplained stops in the countdown that delayed the launch by more than 45 minutes, sailing appeared to go smoothly on Thursday as the reusable rocket and crew capsule hurtled through clear blue skies.
The computer-controlled New Shepard separated from its thruster at an altitude of about 45 miles and continued to climb, reaching an altitude of nearly 66 miles, four miles above the internationally recognized “boundary” between the noticeable atmosphere and space.
In weightlessness after the boosters separated, passengers were able to detach and float around the cabin for three to four minutes as they circled above the flight path.
theis fitted with the largest windows of any operational spacecraft in the world, providing the crew with spectacular hemispherical views of the Earth below and the pitch black of space above as they reach the top of their trajectory and began the long dive to the launch site.
“Let me tell you, it was an out-of-body experience,” Kitchen said after landing. “You’re going 2,300 miles an hour, and you feel every moment of it. And then (you get to the top) and time stops. … You see this beautiful Earth and the darkness of the Universe, and it’s the blackest black I’ve ever seen, it’s just breathtaking. And wow, that was a moment. That was a moment.”
The booster followed a similar trajectory as the capsule, maintaining its tail-down orientation as it headed for its landing strip two miles from where it took off. Near the ground, the rocket’s BE-3 main engine reignited, four landing legs extended, and the booster touched down to land in a cloud of dust.
The crew capsule followed two minutes later, descending under three large parachutes to a step landing cushioned by powerful jets of air a moment before touchdown at 10:08 a.m. EDT. Mission duration: 10 minutes and four seconds.
The launch marked Blue Origin’s 20th New Shepard flight, its fourth with passengers on board, and the 24th non-government commercial spaceflight overall.
Prior to the first crewed launch of a New Shepard, Lai described the spacecraft as “the safest human spaceflight vehicle ever designed, built or operated”.
“We’re going to ramp up operations,” Lai told CBS News at the time. “We’re going to have dozens and eventually hundreds and thousands of astronauts, hopefully, flying on New Shepard.”
As to how reality matched his expectations?
“It was more intense than I thought it would be,” he said. “I obviously thought about what this experience would be like for our astronauts and to experience it myself was a joy. It was 10 times more intense than I thought it would be, or anything I’ve ever experienced. in my life, physically, mentally, emotionally.”
Thursday’s flight was Blue Origin’s first without one or more celebrities on board.
Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark and aviation pioneer Wally Funk were on board forlast July 20; of ‘Star Trek’ fame was on board for the second launch Oct. 13; and television personality Michael Strahan and Laura Shepard Churchley, daughter of astronaut Alan Shepard, were December 11.
Davidson, like Strahan, Churchley and Shatner before him, was asked to fly in what amounted to savvy marketing guaranteed to generate widespread media coverage in a high-stakes competition between Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, owned by fellow billionaire and marketing master Richard Branson.
Virgin has launched four piloted flights of its VSS Unity winged spaceplane, most recently sending Branson, two pilots and three company crewmates on July 11. Commercial operations are expected to begin later this year.