Liftoff! Blue Origin successfully launched its New Shepard rocket Tuesday on its first crewed spaceflight, a historic step forward for private space tourism.
At 9:12 a.m. Eastern time — a slight delay from its 9 a.m. scheduled time — the firm sent up its first crewed mission, with four passengers including the firm’s founder Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark. Blue Origin set records for launching the oldest and youngest person into space, with 82-year-old Wally Funk and 18-year-old Oliver Daeman.
“You’ve got to get up there, sweetheart!” a jubilant Funk said after leaving the capsule.
The ship sent the four passengers on a suborbital flight past the Karman line, the internationally recognized boundary of space at 62 miles altitude. The 11-minute trip saw the crew launch up in a capsule, enjoying around three minutes of weightlessness before returning to Earth.
The firm sent up four passengers on the mission:
- Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and Blue Origin and one of the world’s richest men.
- His brother Mark. Jeff announced that the pair would fly in a video shared on June 7.
- Wally Funk, an aviator known as one of the “Mercury 13,” women who tested for spaceflight in the 1960s. Funk is the oldest person to fly into space at 82 years old, beating John Glenn who flew at age 77 in 1998. Blue Origin announced the plan on July 1.
- Oliver Daeman, who at 18 years old will be the youngest person to fly to space.
Ahead of the launch, Blue Origin shared a photo on Twitter of the four passengers:
Prior to the flight, Jeff and Mark’s sister Christina shared a message that was read out on the air.
“Jeff, this is something you’ve dreamed of your whole life and your passion for space is infectious!” she wrote. “We love you and godspeed New Shepard.”
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Blue Origin’s flights have a clearly defined schedule:
- Seven seconds after the countdown finishes, the rocket lifts off.
- The rocket ascends for two and a half minutes before the main engine cut off.
- Around 20 seconds later, the capsule separates and the fasten seatbelt light turns off. At this point, the crew has three to four minutes of weightlessness, and they are free to float around the cabin.
- The booster deploys its wedge fins and steers to the landing pad. Its engine re-fires just a few seconds before landing.
- The capsule continues its flight. Thrusters stabilize the capsule, before parachutes deploy at 10,000 feet altitude.
- A landing occurs on a cushion of air that fired around six feet above the ground.
The passengers were transported to the launch pad using a Rivian electric vehicle. The choice of Rivian over another electric car such as Tesla is somewhat amusing: rival spaceflight firm SpaceX uses Tesla vehicles to transport crew members to the launch pad, with both firms run by CEO Elon Musk. Blue Origin’s choice of Rivian is perhaps another way of differentiating from SpaceX.
Despite the rivalry, Musk shared his support for the team via Twitter.
As the team got into position, Funk showed the team the postcard of herself that she brought up.
The ship stood tall in the Texas sun.
Following the launch, the booster landed without a hitch.
The booster stood tall on the pad after landing.
The booster and capsule landed back safe and sound.
The vehicle was grounded to avoid static charge after it landed before the passengers left the capsule to a cheering crowd.
Ashlee Vance, author of a 2015 biography of Elon Musk, suggested the Blue Origin team would likely be relieved the mission went off without a hitch.
Blue Origin has big plans after this mission. The advancements from the New Shepard rocket will be used for the New Glenn rocket, a future vehicle designed to send crew and cargo into orbit.
The firm will also host more private space flights this year. Ariane Cornell, Blue Origin director of astronaut sales, said in a Sunday press conference that the firm intends to have two more crewed flights in 2021 for a total of three flights this year.
Those interested in flying on a future mission were invited to send their applications to email@example.com. The firm claimed that ticket sales were now open, but pricing is still unknown.
As the first ticket sold for $28 million at auction, expect it to be expensive.
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