Blue Origin Successfully Sends Six Into Space

The word ‘touchdown’ took on a whole new meaning for former NFL player Michael Strahan Saturday, who was an honorary guest on the mission.

In this image taken from video, the crew celebrates after a successful flight. Courtesy: Blue Origin

Blue Origin’s New Shepard’s 19th mission successfully launched its third human flight of four paying customers and two honorary guests into near space Saturday morning. The flight was the first time the program carried a full manifest of six people.

The approximately 10-minute flight, dubbed NS-19 mission, began at 10 a.m. EST when it launched from Launch Site One located in West Texas. The NS-19 flight marks the third Blue Origin flight with humans in 2021 and the 19th trip to space for the New Shepard rocket.

“We did it!” one of the crew members could be heard saying over transmission, as their fellow crew members clapped and the capsule descended back to ground.

The completely autonomous rocket transported the six passengers to the Kármán line—the internationally recognized beginning of space. The crew crossed the line about five minutes after liftoff.

“We had a great flight today. This was our sixth flight in what has been a great year for the New Shepard program,” Bob Smith, Blue Origin CEO, said in a statement. “We flew 14 astronauts to space, flew a NASA payload flight that tested lunar landing sensors and completed our certification test flights.”

Among the passengers on the December 10 flight was Laura Shepard Churchley, the eldest daughter of the first American to fly to space and fifth person to walk on the moon, Alan Shepard. She serves as chair of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Board of Trustees. The rocket is named in honor of her father.

Two-time Emmy award winner Michael Strahan was Blue Origin’s second honorary guest for the NS-19 mission. He hosts several shows such as “Good Morning America,” “$100,000 Pyramid,” and serves as an analyst for “Fox NFL Sunday.” His stipend from the mission will be donated to The Boys and Girls Club.

Blue Origin's New Shepard lifts off with a full crew from Launch Site One in West Texas. Screenshot: Blue Origin

Dylan Taylor, chairman and CEO of Voyager Space, was also among the NS-19 crew. Taylor is also a co-founding patron of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. He was also named a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute in 2014 and a Fellow of the Unreasonable Group this year.

ATP-certificated Evan Dick volunteers for Starfighters Aerospace and formerly served as senior vice president for D.E. Shaw and managing director of Highbridge Capital Management. His charity efforts include the Darwin Foundation and Population Relief International Corp.

Lane Bess, a philanthropist and founder of Bess Ventures and Advisory, was also on the flight. Bess has previously helped create two major cybersecurity companies, Zscaler and Palo Alto Networks. His son, Cameron Bess, joined his father Lane onboard NS-19. Cameron works as a content creator, studying computer science and game design at DigiPen Institute for Technology in Washington. Cameron identifies as pansexual and hopes to inspire the LGBTQ+ community.

The Besses are the first parent-child pair to fly to space.

The spacecraft is propelled by the Blue Engine 3 (BE-3) which is capable of landing itself after each use, slowing its descent to just 5 mph before touchdown. New Shepard is also equipped with drag brakes, aft fins, and landing gear to allow for fine adjustments.

Mission Success

“The Gs aren’t a facelift, it’s a face drop,” Strahan quipped, minutes after emerging from the capsule. “I know what I’m going to look like when I’m 85.”

The launch had been originally scheduled December 9 but was rescheduled due to high winds.

Michael Strahan looks out of the window of the capsule before liftoff Saturday. Screenshot: Blue Origin

Saturday’s launch comes just two months after actor William Shatner, 90, became the oldest person to go to space when he traveled aboard a Blue Origin flight. He took the title previously held by pilot Wally Funk.  

In a pre-flight message, Shatner wished the crew luck. “Dear fellow half-astronauts, you’re in great hands today, and only wonderful things will happen,” he said. “Good luck, but you don’t need it.”

Following the fight, Blue Origin paid tribute to its astronaut Glen De Vries, who died Nov. 11 when a Cessna C172 went down near Lake Kemah, New Jersey, less than one month after he flew into space with William Shatner.

The NS-19 mission serves as Blue Origin’s effort toward drastically reducing the cost of spaceflight for future generations. The company, which is owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, hopes to return Americans to the moon using its “Blue Moon” lunar lander in the near future.

Kimberly is managing editor of FLYING Digital.

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