Blue Origin has already completed two successful crewed launches, having taken a crew of four people, including actor William Shatner, to space and back from its West Texas base on Wednesday.
The NS-18 is the company’s fifth mission this year and its eighteenth altogether. Shatner, 90, is now the oldest person to reach space, surpassing 82-year-old Wally Funk (who flew on Blue’s previous launch in July).
At roughly 10:50 a.m. ET, Blue Origin’s private facility in West Texas, launched the rocket, which passed through the Kármán Line (internationally recognized boundary of space). The crew experienced a brief period of weightlessness about this time. Around 11 minutes later, the capsule landed independently using a parachute back at the launch facility. The capsule also landed autonomously and returned to the Texas desert utilizing a set of parachutes.
The reusable New Shepard launch vehicle landed near the launch site on a concrete platform. Blue Origin also utilizes New Shepard to deliver research payloads in the capsule on commercial trips, such as the one in August.
Blue Origin, which hopes to position itself as a prominent participant in the expanding space tourism business, is overjoyed with the successful launch. In July, Jeff Bezos embarked on the company’s first crewed spaceflight, ushering it into the space tourism sector, where it will compete with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. In addition, SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company, is also engaging in commercial space flights.
While Bezos stated that Blue Origin had sold roughly $100 million on tickets to future passengers, the price of a seat on New Shepard has not been published.
The company’s latest crewed spaceflight comes as the FAA investigates safety concerns expressed by current and former employees in an essay published last month.
“The New Shepard program went through a methodical and painstaking process to certify the rocket, and anyone that claims otherwise is uninformed and simply incorrect,” said Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith while addressing the safety concerns.
Employee turnover is on the rise at Blue Origin. The New Shepard program’s senior vice president left in August. Bezos and Blue Origin’s senior leadership specifically invited Powers, whose responsibilities include monitoring the New Shepard program and serve as the company’s fourth and final representative on the NS-18 crew.