Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin launched its sixth New Shepard passenger plane Thursday, taking half a dozen space tourists on a supersonic dash to the edge of space and back, complete with a few minutes of weightlessness and out-of-this-world views from 66 miles above west Texas.
As the spacecraft raced up to the pinnacle of its orbit, a microphone in the crew cabin picked up shouts of elation and wonder as the passengers disentangled themselves, began to float around and marvel at the spectacle of Earth far below and the deep black space above.
“We do it!” shouted one. “Oh my God!” gasped another. “Look at the blackness,” someone exclaimed. A crew member offered a little advice: “take it in, take it in!”
The flight began when New Shepard’s single-stage rocket roared to life and the rocket blasted off from Blue Origin’s Van Horn, Texas, flight facility at 9:57 a.m. EDT, shooting straight up into a clear blue sky atop a brilliant jet of flame. exhaust.
On board: a British-American mountaineer, an Egyptian space enthusiast, a Portuguese investor and adventurer, a telecom executive turned restaurateur, an engineer and one of the founders of the YouTube channel “Dude Perfect”.
The hydrogen-burning BE-3 first-stage engine boosted the New Shepard crew capsule to a speed of 2,239 mph and an eventual altitude of 351,232 feet, well above US and international standards used to define the “boundary” between the perceptible atmosphere and space.
The capsule then buckled and fell back to Earth. Moments after the spacecraft’s three main parachutes deployed and inflated, a crew member loudly joked, “We’re not going to die!” Also: “Our poor families!”
Mission duration, from launch to landing: 10 minutes and 20 seconds.
For Sara Sabry, a 29-year-old Egyptian mechanical and biomedical engineer living in Berlin while studying for a Ph.D. in space science, the length of the flight was not as important as what it symbolized.
“When we dare to dream big, we achieve things considered impossible, we break boundaries, make history and set new challenges for the future,” she told Space for Humanity, the organization sponsoring her flight.
“I am incredibly happy that Space For Humanity has offered me this opportunity and I am honored to represent Egypt in space for the first time. My ancestors always dreamed big and achieved the impossible and I hope to bring it back. This is just the beginning.”
Also on board: Coby Cotton, one of five co-founders of “Dude Perfect,” one of the Internet’s most-subscribed sports channels; Mario Ferreira, a Portuguese investor; rock climber Vanessa O’Brien; Clint Kelly III, an engineer with expertise in autonomous driving systems; and Steve Young, former CEO of a major telecommunications company and now restaurant developer in Melbourne, Florida.
“With the sale of the company came a lot of stupid money,” Young told the Florida Today newspaper. “And with stupid money you can do stupid things… I’ve always been a bit of a brag-slash-showoff. And what’s better than being able to say you went to space when your friends can’t?”
Blue Origin does not discuss how much it costs for a flight aboard New Shepard. But Quartz reported that MoonDAO, a “decentralized autonomous organization” built on the ethereum blockchain, paid $2,575,000 for two New Shepard seats, including Cotton’s. The second seat has not yet been allocated.
“Thanks to the transparency of the blockchain, we know it cost MoonDAO $2,575,000,” Quartz reported. “Some of that is transaction fees, but the figure suggests that a seat on New Shepard costs $1.25 million.”
The NS-22 mission marked the 12th piloted commercial, non-governmental suborbital spaceflight and the sixth for Blue Origin, which is the early leader in a high-stakes race between Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, the billionaire owner of Virgin Galactic.
Branson won the commercial suborbital space race in 2018 when his company launched its first test flight over 50 miles, the limit of space recognized by NASA and the FAA. Branson flew as a passenger on the company’s fourth flight in July 2021, the last, with two pilots and three other Virgin Galactic employees.
Bezos, his brother Mark, aviation pioneer Wally Funk and Danish teenager Oliver Daeman took off. Blue Origin’s first piloted suborbital flight July 20, 2021, nine days after Branson’s launch.
Virgin Galactic has yet to announce a date for its next flight, but Blue Origin followed up the Bezos flight by launching a series of NASA experiments on an unpiloted mission next month. Then, 13 October 2021, William Shatner and three crew members were launched on the company’s 18th aircraft overall and the second carrying passengers.
Three new New Shepard flights followed on December 11, 2021, March 31 this year and most recently on June 4.
Unlike Virgin’s VSS Unity spacecraft, which launches from a carrier and glides to a runway landing after a brief visit to the lower edge of space, Blue Origin’s New Shepard is a much more traditional rocket and capsule.
In a little more than two minutes, the single-stage booster propels the capsule and its crew straight up to an altitude of about 32 miles and a speed of about 2,200 mph before the main engine shuts down.
A few seconds later, at an altitude of about 45 miles, the crew capsule is released to fly on its own.
As the reusable booster returns to land on a nearby pad, the crew capsule continues upward on an undriven, ballistic trajectory, reaching a maximum altitude of just over 65 miles three and a half minutes after liftoff.
The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), an international body based in Switzerland that certifies space flight records, considers an altitude of 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, to be the dividing line between the perceptible atmosphere and outer space.
NASA and the FAA state that 50 miles is the point at which wings and aerofoils no longer have any effect on a vehicle’s motion and thus define the starting point of “space”. Virgin Galactic uses that guideline while Blue Origin meets both standards.
After release from the New Shepard rocket, passengers experience about three minutes of weightlessness, enough time to detach and float around the cabin while enjoying a spectacular view of Earth through six windows more than three feet tall and nearly two and a half feet wide.
The capsule plunges back into the lower atmosphere and rapidly decelerates, briefly exposing the occupants to more than five times normal gravity, before three large parachutes deploy, lowering the craft to a gentle touchdown a few miles from the launch pad.
All of this seemed to go smoothly on Thursday.
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