Front Page: Blue Origin Launches Second Crewed New Shepard Mission

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dWeb.News Article from Daniel Webster dWeb.News

by Jeff Foust — October 13, 2021
Blue Origin’s New Shepard lifts off Oct. 134 on the NS-18 mission, the second flight of the vehicle to carry people. Credit: Blue Origin webcast

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Blue Origin launched Star Trek actor William Shatner and three others into space on a brief suborbital flight Oct. 13, the second crewed flight of the company’s New Shepard vehicle.

New Shepard lifted off from the company’s Launch Site One in West Texas at 10: 49 a.m. Eastern. The vehicle reached an estimated peak altitude of 107 kilometers before the crew capsule, RSS First Step, landed 10 minutes and 15 seconds after liftoff. Three minutes earlier, the booster was able to land under rocket power.

The vehicle carried four people, headlined by Shatner, best known for his role as James T. Kirk on the original Star Trek television series and later movies. At 90, Shatner is now the oldest person to fly to space, breaking the record set by 82-year-old Wally Funk on the first crewed New Shepard flight July 20.

Shatner was exuberant after his flight, offering a long description of his experience to Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos during the company’s webcast. “I wish I never recover from it. He said that he hoped to maintain the feelings he feels now. “Everybody in the world needs to do this.”

Shatner is not paying for his seat, but two others are paying undisclosed amounts to be on the flight. Chris Boshuizen, a co-founder and partner of investment firm DCVC, is also a co-founder at Earth observation company Planet. He was the third Australian to travel to space. Glen de Vries is co-founder of Medidata Solutions, a clinical research company, and became vice chair of life sciences and healthcare at Dassault Systemes when it acquired Medidata in 2019.

The fourth person on the flight was Audrey Powers, vice president of mission and flight operations at Blue Origin and chair of the board of directors of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. She was instrumental in getting New Shepard pilots approved. She said in a Blue Origin video that she was selected by company founder Jeff Bezos and senior leadership “to represent Team Blue and fly as the fourth astronaut” on the mission.

The launch was scheduled for Oct. 12, but the company postponed the launch a day because of winds. “The forecast two days ago told us this would a difficult day, both from the point of view of surface winds, which affect the personnel preparing the vehicle for launch, and the winds aloft,” said Nick Patrick, NS-18 lead flight director at Blue Origin and a former NASA astronaut, in a video the company released Oct. 12.

He added the company pushed back the liftoff from its originally scheduled time of 9: 30 a.m. Eastern because the “tail end of today’s winds affect the rollout” early Oct. 13.

The vehicle itself was ready for launch on the originally scheduled date. Patrick said the vehicle passed a flight readiness review on Oct. 10. He stated that everything was in good condition for launch.

The flight is a bright spot for a company that has recently been mired in controversy. In April, it protested NASA’s selection of SpaceX to be a Human Landing System award winner. The Government Accountability Office dismissed that protest in July and the company filed suit at the Court of Federal Claims. The court has ordered that work on the HLS program be suspended until November 1.

The company more recently faced accusations of a hostile workplace environment, including sexual harassment, as well as lapses in safety.

Twenty-one former and current employees wrote an essay outlining those issues. They also claimed that the company was subject to hostile workplace environment, including sexual harassment, as well as safety lapses.

“Safety has been baked into the design of New Shepard from day one,” said Jacki Cortese, senior manager of civil space government relations at Blue Origin, during the company’s webcast of the NS-18 launch. It’s a sturdy vehicle with large margins. We’ve actually determined that the design can handle substantially more than what we see in flight.”

She added that external reviews of the vehicle by people with “deep experience” in spaceflight programs. “Unanimously, this team determined that New Shepard met the highest standards for certification.”

The flight was the fifth New Shepard flight this year, including three payload-only flights. This is the most suborbital vehicles the company has flown in one year. In July, company executives stated that they would perform two additional crewed flights this fiscal year. This was the first. The full crew of New Shepard may take six passengers on the second flight, which is scheduled for December.

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