Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin transported actor William Shatner and three others to the edge of space on Wednesday morning, the latest flight aimed at establishing the burgeoning space tourism market.
Blue Origin carried out the flight as aviation regulators assess recent allegations, made in a September letter signed by a former employee, that the company has not always prioritized safety. The company said it was maintaining its safety record.
Blue Origin kicked off passengers at 10:49 a.m. ET from the company’s facilities in West Texas. He returned them about 10 minutes later in a passenger capsule which deployed parachutes for landing. At its peak, the passenger capsule reached an altitude of 66.5 miles, according to the company.
Mr. Shatner, 90, is now the oldest person to reach space. After exiting the capsule on Wednesday morning, he said he was struck by the contrast of the blue atmosphere with the black expanse of space.
“Everyone in the world has to do it,” he told Mr. Bezos, who accompanied the passengers until they boarded the capsule for the flight and met them after the flight. ‘landing.
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The mission follows other privately orchestrated space flights carrying people who are not traditional astronauts. Blue Origin launched Mr. Bezos in July and Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc.
separately flew its founder, Richard Branson, to the edge of space. Elon Musk’s SpaceX completed a three-day orbital mission paid for by the billionaire CEO of a payment company last month.
Blue Origin’s launch of Mr. Shatner, who played Captain Kirk in the original “Star Trek” series, and three others made Wednesday’s flight a high-profile event in media coverage and on social media platforms. The company live streamed the flight with its own hosts to discuss the effort, much like other space companies, including SpaceX, have been promoting their own launches to a wider audience.
Having someone like Mr. Shatner on board helps draw attention to the flight, said Joseph Czabovsky, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina who worked with the Harris Poll to measure public perceptions of the flight. private space flights after the flight of MM. Bezos and Branson this summer. . “For better or worse, fame matters,” Czabovsky said.
Mr Shatner, along with Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s vice president of mission and flight operations, did not pay for Wednesday’s flight, with the company previously describing them as guests for the trip.
Two others – Glen de Vries, co-founder of clinical research software company Medidata Solutions, and Chris Boshuizen, co-founder of data company Earth Planet Labs Inc. – have paid for their tickets, according to Blue Origin. The company did not disclose pricing and Messrs. Boshuizen and de Vries declined to comment on the costs.
Mr Boshuizen said in an interview earlier this month that he believes human spaceflight will become more accessible over time as companies like Blue Origin reuse vehicles for multiple trips. “I want people to know it’s for them too,” he said of such launches.
In a letter posted online in September, some current and former Blue Origin employees alleged cases of sexual harassment at the company and criticized its security practices.
According to the letter, which one of the people publicly signed, the desire to compete with Mr. Musk and demonstrate progress to Mr. Bezos “seemed to take precedence over security concerns that would have slowed the schedule.”
The Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates launches and re-entry into space, is reviewing the safety claims. A spokesperson for the agency said the review was continuing.
Blue Origin said it does not tolerate discrimination or harassment and that its employees have several ways to report misconduct. The company said it believes in its safety record. The New Shepard, the rocket that carried Mr. Bezos in July and launched the crew on Wednesday, is the safest spacecraft ever, Blue Origin said.
Wednesday’s flight was the second time Blue Origin has transported people to space and the company’s 19th consecutive landing for its crew capsule, Blue Origin said. This vehicle is stacked on one of the New Shepard rockets for space tourism flights.
The increase in manned space flights operated by commercial enterprises is in line with the broader interest of entrepreneurs and investors in space as a place of economic activity. Startups have developed businesses to provide fuel to satellites and to capture and sell data on Earth, as well as to help launch rockets. Large aerospace companies have also invested in vehicles and services.
The demand for space tourism is still struggling, with relatively few opportunities available for flights at this time. For companies entering the market, “the key question is what will happen when they move away from special customers” such as wealthy people, said Roger Handberg, professor at the University of Central Florida who studying space policy.
After its capsule landed on Wednesday, Blue Origin said it was planning an additional flight with people on board this year and was working on multiple trips for 2022. In July, Mr Bezos said the company was approaching 100 million. in sales dollars for space tourism launches.
Such thefts could generate around $ 4 billion in annual revenue by 2030, according to UBS analysts. Ticket prices, however, remain out of reach for most people, with Virgin Galactic, for example, charging at least $ 450,000 per seat.
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