Blue Origin Resumes Crewed Space Flights After Nearly Two-Year Hiatus

The New Shepard rocket and capsule lifted off at 9:36 a.m. local time from a facility on a private ranch in West Texas

by Sededin Dedovic
Blue Origin Resumes Crewed Space Flights After Nearly Two-Year Hiatus
© Joe Raedle / Getty Images

A tourist rocket from Blue Origin has launched passengers to the edge of space for the first time in nearly two years, ending a hiatus caused by an unsuccessful uncrewed test flight. The "New Shepard" rocket and capsule lifted off at 9:36 AM local time from a facility on a private ranch in West Texas.

"NS-25," Blue Origin's seventh crewed flight to date, carried six people in the capsule: broker Mason Angelo, French brewery founder Sylvain Hiron, software engineer and entrepreneur Kenneth L. Hess, retired accountant Carol Schaller, aviator Gopi Thottakuru, and retired U.S.

Air Force captain Ed Dwight. At 90 years old, Dwight reached the edge of space, becoming the oldest person to venture to such heights, according to a Blue Origin spokesperson. "I thought I didn't need this in my life. But I was wrong.

I really, truly needed it. It's a life-changing experience. Everyone should do this," Dwight stated. The short flight from West Texas made Dwight the new record holder as the oldest person in space, being almost two months older than Star Trek actor William Shatner, who flew in 2021.

The passengers, also including a venture capitalist and a pilot, were paying customers of Blue Origin's space tourism business, though Dwight's seat was sponsored by a space-focused nonprofit and a private foundation. Blue Origin has not disclosed how much it charges customers.

This was Blue Origin's first crewed journey in almost two years, following a rocket launch in September 2022 that ended unsuccessfully when the rocket began veering off course shortly after liftoff. Flights resumed last December, but without crew on board, making this the seventh "space tourist" journey with Blue Origin.

Alongside Dwight, an artist, the space voyage included four entrepreneurs from the USA and France and a retired accountant, though ticket prices were not disclosed. During the mission, the crew traveled at speeds over three times the speed of sound.

At the peak of the journey, passengers experienced a few minutes of weightlessness and stunning views of Earth through the cabin windows.

Jeff Bezos speaks about his flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard into space during a press conference on July 20, 2021 in Van H© Joe Raedle / Getty Images

The launch followed the success of an uncrewed scientific mission in December.

In an interview with Lex Fridman, Jeff Bezos, the owner of Blue Origin, said that the system safely jettisoned the capsule, which is why he feels "comfortable letting anyone go on such a trip." "In my opinion, a tourist vehicle must be designed to be as safe as someone can make it.

You can't make it perfectly safe. That's impossible," Bezos added. The Federal Aviation Administration, which licenses commercial rocket launches and ensures public safety, oversaw the investigation into the initial failure.

It was found that the engine nozzle failed due to higher-than-expected temperatures. Additional design changes were made to the nozzle, and structural performance under thermal and dynamic loads was improved. These changes and the successful December flight of "New Shepard" encouraged the company to restart its space trips for thrill-seekers.

A four-member team led by Jeff Bezos flew on "New Shepard," the suborbital capsule and rocket system, to the edge of space and safely returned to Earth by parachute in July 2021.

Blue Origin beats SpaceX in the race to Mars

NASA revealed plans to launch two scientific spacecraft on Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket in August 2024, securing a $20 million contract for Blue Origin.

Originally planned for SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket with NASA's Psyche mission, the spacecraft were reassigned due to trajectory issues. NASA's decision followed a setback for Musk, as his Starship rocket, intended for Moon and Mars missions, faced another failed launch.

NASA's Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorer (ESCAPADE) mission will now launch on Blue Origin's unproven New Glenn rocket, studying solar wind effects on Mars' magnetosphere, with three experiments per spacecraft.

NASA's move to engage private companies for cost-effective Mars missions marks a departure from its tradition of using its own rockets for such missions, making Blue Origin the first private space company to secure a contract for this purpose.

The rivalry in the space race between billionaires Musk and Bezos intensified earlier this year with separate multi-billion dollar contracts for Moon missions. Each of the two ESCAPADE satellites will carry instruments including a magnetometer, electrostatic analyzer, and Langmuir probe to measure magnetic fields, ions and electrons, plasma density, and solar extreme ultraviolet flux.

Sunday's New Shepard launch marked Blue Origin's seventh crewed mission. Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity is due to launch its seventh commercial mission next month before the company pauses its spaceflight program until 2026 to upgrade its fleet.