Blue Origin successfully completed the 19th flight of its New Shepard rocket on Saturday, and for the first time a member of the Shepard family was aboard.
Laura Shepard Churchley, eldest daughter of Alan Shepard, the first American in space, joined former NFL titan and current Good Morning America host Michael Strahan as honorary guests for the flight. “It’s almost like an out-of-body experience,” Strahan told a reporter after the flight. “It’s hard to even believe it happened.”
Four paying customers were also in the crew cabin, marking the first time a full group of six passengers has made the trip to the edge of space and back with the help of billionaire Jeff Bezos’ side gig.
The mission, dubbed NS-19, also featured four paying customers: space industry executive Dylan Taylor (CEO of Voyager Space Holdings and founder of nonprofit Space for Humanity); investor Evan Dick; and Bess Ventures founder Lane Bess and Cameron Bess.
“Lane and Cameron Bess will become the first parent-child pair to fly in space,” Blue Origin said in a statement prior to launch.
The New Shepard rocket blasted off from the company’s West Texas launch facility at 7 a.m. PT. The flight was originally set for Wednesday, but forecast winds delayed it.
Within minutes of launch, the booster stage lofted the crew capsule to a high altitude where it separated and continued on to more than 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the Earth, the commonly accepted beginning of outer space (though that’s complicated).
While the crew enjoyed a few minutes of weightlessness and an unparalleled view, the booster returned for a successful landing near the launch pad. The newly minted astronauts then reentered earth’s atmosphere for a soft landing back in the high desert with the help of multiple parachutes.
The whole thing was over in just about 15 minutes, but Strahan tweeted that it was “surreal” and “unbelievable.”
NS-19 is the third launch of a New Shepard to carry humans to space. The first crewed launch carried Bezos, his brother, and aviation pioneer Wally Funk, along with one paying customer. The second saw a Blue Origin employee, two paying customers, and sci-fi legend William Shatner in the crew cabin.
No word yet on who might be up next.
Other players in the game of commercial spaceflight include Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which in September sent the civilian crew of its Inspiration4 mission orbiting around the Earth nearly 50 times, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which in July sent the British billionaire and others on a brief jaunt to the edge of space.
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