Blue Origin launches 6 passengers on a suborbital journey into space

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin launched its sixth New Shepard passenger flight on Thursday, taking half a dozen space tourists on a supersonic race to the edge of space and back, with a few minutes of levity and out-of-this-world views. 66 miles above West Texas.

Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket and capsule lift off from the company's West Texas launch site on Thursday, carrying a six-member international crew on a 10-minute flight to the edge of space and back.  / Credit: Blue Origin

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket and capsule lift off from the company’s West Texas launch site on Thursday, carrying a six-member international crew on a 10-minute flight to the edge of space and back. / Credit: Blue Origin

As the spacecraft approached the high point of its trajectory, a microphone in the crew cabin picked up screams of euphoria and awe as passengers untied themselves, began to float and marveled at the spectacle of Earth below and the deep darkness of the space above.

“We’re doing it!” one shouted. “Oh my God!” gasped another. “Look into the darkness,” someone exclaimed. A crew member gave advice: “hold on, take it!”

The flight began as the New Shepard’s single-stage rocket came to life and the rocket lifted off from Blue Origin’s flight facility in Van Horn, Texas at 9:57 am EDT, shooting straight into a clear blue sky atop a bright jet of flames. . exhaust.

On board: a British-American mountaineer, an Egyptian space enthusiast, a Portuguese investor and adventurer, a telecommunications executive turned restaurant owner, an engineer and co-founder of the YouTube channel “Dude Perfect”.

The hydrogen first-stage BE-3 engine propelled the New Shepard crew capsule to a speed of 2,239 mph and a final altitude of 351,232 feet, well above American and international standards used to define the “boundary” between the atmosphere. discernible and space.

The capsule then arched and fell back to Earth. Moments after the spacecraft’s three main parachutes opened and inflated, a crew member joked aloud, “We’re not going to die!” Also: “Our poor families!”

Mission duration from launch to landing: 10 minutes and 20 seconds.

To Sara Sabry, a 29-year-old Egyptian mechanical and biomedical engineer who lives in Berlin while studying for a doctorate. in aerospace science, the duration of the flight was not as important as what it symbolized.

“When we dare to dream big, we achieve things considered impossible, break boundaries, write history and set new challenges for the future,” she told Space for Humanity, the organization that sponsors her flight.

“I’m incredibly excited that Space For Humanity offered me this opportunity and I’m honored to represent Egypt in space for the first time. My ancestors always dreamed big and achieved the impossible, and I hope to bring that back. It’s just the beginning.”

Also on board: Coby Cotton, one of five co-founders of “Dude Perfect”, one of the most subscribed sports channels on the internet; Mário Ferreira, Portuguese investor; climber Vanessa O’Brien; Clint Kelly III, engineer with experience in autonomous driving systems; and Steve Young, former CEO of a major telecommunications company and now a restaurant developer in Melbourne, Florida.

The crew of New Shepard Flight 22 (left to right): Sara Sabry, the first Egyptian to reach space, restaurant owner Steve Young,

The crew of New Shepard Flight 22 (left to right): Sara Sabry, the first Egyptian to reach space, restaurant owner Steve Young,

“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 show-off braggart. 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 charges for a flight aboard the 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. Second place has not yet been awarded.

“Thanks to the transparency of the blockchain, we know that it cost MoonDAO $2,575,000,” Quartz reported. “Part of that is transaction fees, but the number suggests a seat at New Shepard is $1.25 million.”

The NS-22 mission marked the 12th commercial and non-governmental piloted suborbital spaceflight and the sixth for Blue Origin, which is the initial leader in a high-stakes competition between Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, the billionaire owner of Virgin Galactic.

The New Shepard rocket, completing its eighth flight, flies back to a safe landing on a landing pad at the launch site.  / Credit: Blue Origin

The New Shepard rocket, completing its eighth flight, flies back to a safe landing on a landing pad at the launch site. / Credit: Blue Origin

Branson won the commercial suborbital space race in 2018 when his company launched its first piloted test flight above 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, its most recent, joining 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 on July 20, 2021, nine days after Branson’s release.

Virgin Galactic has yet to announce a date for its next flight, but Blue Origin followed up on Bezos’ flight by launching a suite of NASA experiments on an unmanned mission next month. So on October 13, 2021, William Shatner and three crew members were launched on the company’s 18th general flight and the second carrying passengers.

Three more New Shepard manned flights followed on December 11, 2021, March 31 of this year, and most recently, June 4.

Unlike Virgin’s VSS Unity spaceplane, which launches from a carrier jet 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 just over two minutes, the single-stage booster propels the capsule and its crew straight to an altitude of around 32 miles and a speed of around 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 thruster lands back on a nearby platform, the crew capsule continues to climb on a de-energized ballistic trajectory, reaching a maximum altitude of just over 65 miles three and a half minutes after takeoff.

The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the Swiss-based international body that certifies aerospace records, considers an altitude of 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, to be the dividing line between discernible atmosphere and space.

NASA and the FAA say that 50 miles is the point at which wings and aerosurfaces no longer have any effect on a vehicle’s motion and therefore define the starting point of “space”. Virgin Galactic uses this guideline while Blue Origin meets both standards.

Upon launch of the New Shepard rocket, passengers experience about three minutes of weightlessness, just enough time to let go and float around the cabin while enjoying spectacular views of Earth through six windows that are more than three feet high and nearly one meter high. meter and a half. off.

Diving back into the lower atmosphere, the capsule quickly decelerates, briefly subjecting passengers to more than five times the normal force of gravity, before three large parachutes open, lowering the craft to a soft landing a few kilometers from the platform. Of launching.

All of this seemed to run like clockwork on Thursday.

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