Blue Origin, the rocket company created by billionaire Jeff Bezos, successfully sent Michael Strahan to space and brought him back safely.
Strahan, a former star of the New York Giants, took the flight with five other passengers, including Laura Shepard Churchley, the daughter of pioneer astronaut Alan Shepard.
The rocket is named “New Shepard” in honor of Alan Shepard, who took a suborbital flight in 1961, the first astronaut to travel into space. A decade later, Alan Shepard walked in the surface of the moon.
The New Shepard’s flight lifted off at 10:00 EST, 15 minutes later than had been originally scheduled, and was livestreamed on YouTube. The rocket took off from a sprawling ranch outside of Van Horn, Texas. Churchley and Strahan were guests of the company, Blue Origin, the other passengers were paying guests.
When the mission was complete, Bezos — as has become his custom — opened the cabin door and said, “Welcome back.”
Strahan, emerging from the vessel, said “It’s unreal.” Soon he added, “I want to go back.”
Blue Origin will be following the New Shepard rocket with an improved vehicle, the New Glenn, which it expects to roll out next year. That will initiate the company’s orbital flights. That name honors John Glenn, America’s second astronaut in space and the first in orbit. That occurred on February 20, 1962.
Bezos says he considers the work of Blue Origin to be his most important work. In addition to the paying customers, who may represent the company’s profit motive, Bezos has taken to inviting celebrities with access to large audiences, such as Michael Strahan and William Shatner before him. He believes inviting them on space flights helps raise public enthusiasm for the notion of humanity as a space-traversing species.
Though the New Shepard has always had room for six, this was the first mission for which all the available seats have been used.
In a tweet, Blue Origin Saturday morning mentioned someone else, who was present in spirit. “Today, a one-of-a-kind pendant paying tribute to Star Trek legend Leonard Nimoy will be on board.” The pendant represents a message Nimoy long believed in, that everyone should live a long and happy life. Or, as his alter ego “Spock” used to say, “Live long and prosper.”
Blue Origin’s New Shepard flights are called “suborbital” because they are brief, up-and-down trips, getting beyond the 62-mile distance from the surface that is somewhat arbitrarily dubbed the beginning of space.
Orbital rockets like the New Glenn, need to exert power to travel at 17,000 miles per hour, orbital velocity, essentialy turning the spacecraft into a moon of the planet.
New Shepard’s flights get to about 2,300 miles per hour, or Mach 3 (three times the speed of sound). They fly directly upward until most of the fuel is expended.
At the top of the trajectory the crew capsule separates from the rocket. It continues upward briefly by inertia, then hovers at the very top of its path, giving the crew the sensation of weightlessness, then gravity pulls it downward. A large plume of parachutes is needed to allow a survivable landing, for the crew and the vessel itself.
One of the paying customers on Saturday morning’s flight was Dylan Taylor, the chairman and CEO of a space investing firm. He has used his participation in the flight to publicize charities that are working to promote access to space for disabled people and to provide fellowships to women and people of color within in the aerospace industry.
Taylor has donated to those types of charities and urges other wealthy people to do so, as well.