Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin successfully launches crew with William Shatner to space and back

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Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is set to launch its New Shepard rocket for the fifth time this year on Wednesday, and Canadian actor William Shatner will join the second crewed spaceflight for the company.

Called NS-18, this New Shepard mission will carry a crew of four: Shatner, Blue Origin VP of mission and flight operations Audrey Powers, Planet Labs co-founder Chris Boshuizen and Medidata co-founder Glen de Vries.

The crew of NS-18, from left: Audrey Powers, William Shatner, Dr. Chris Boshuizen, and Glen de Vries.
Blue Origin

Shatner, who famously played Capt. Kirk in the original “Star Trek” television series, is set to become the oldest person to fly into space at 90. The record was previously held by aerospace pioneer Wally Funk, who at 82 flew on Blue Origin’s first crewed launch in July.

The rocket will launch from Blue Origin’s private facility in West Texas, aiming to reach above 100,000 kilometers (or more than 340,000 feet altitude) before returning to Earth safely a few minutes later. From start to finish, the launch is expected to last about 11 minutes. The crew is set to experience about three minutes of weightlessness.

New Shepard’s capsule will accelerate to more than three times the speed of sound to pass beyond the 80 kilometer boundary (about 50 miles) the U.S. uses to mark the edge of space. The capsule is flown autonomously, with no human pilot, and returns under a set of parachutes to land in the Texas desert.

The New Shepard rocket booster is also reusable, and will attempt to land on a concrete pad near the launch site.

The company also flies New Shepard on cargo missions, such as the one in August, which carry research payloads in the capsule.

This photo provided by Blue Origin, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket sits on a spaceport launch pad near Van Horn, Texas, Tuesday, July 20, 2021.
Blue Origin | Reuters

Blue Origin founder Bezos flew on the company’s first crewed spaceflight in July on a mission that marked his company’s entrance into the sector of suborbital tourism, where it competes with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Also in the private space tourism market is Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The company’s Crew Dragon capsule flies into orbit – many times the altitude of Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft – and spends days in space, rather than minutes.

While Bezos said that Blue Origin has sold nearly $100 million worth of tickets to future passengers, the company has not disclosed the price of a seat on New Shepard.

The company’s latest crewed spaceflight comes as the Federal Aviation Administration reviews safety concerns raised by current and former employees in an essay published last month. Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith, in an email obtained by CNBC, responded to the safety allegations by saying the company’s New Shepard program “went through a methodical and pain-staking process to certify” the rocket to carry people, adding that “anyone that claims otherwise is uninformed and simply incorrect.”

Blue Origin is suffering from escalating employee attrition, CNBC reported earlier this month. Departures include the New Shepard program’s senior vice president in August.

Powers, whose role includes overseeing New Shepard program safety, was notably invited by Bezos and Blue Origin’s senior leadership as the fourth and final member of the NS-18 crew to be a representative for the company.

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