Whatever the reason, Bezos ’announcement was surprising. Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith defended the plan in a preflight briefing, saying that the two most recent test flights showed that all systems were ready, and that everything controlling the spacecraft works autonomously, there was no need for human practice. “We don’t see any value, quite honestly, in making things happen,” he said, jumping directly to the ferocious part of the company’s motto. So it would not be a human test flight, but a first-rate journey with the boss, the brother, an octogenarian and a teenager.
In preparation for the flight, the normally timid press company suddenly turned the show biz on, releasing bright videos and photos of the crew decorated in their shiny blue suits. Original plans to accommodate a modest press contingent were dismissed as a reinforcement race, as the company invited dozens of reporters to its remote location in the West Texas desert, where Bezos owns more than 300,000 acres. and even a mountain range.
At 7:25 a.m. midday, on the company’s launch pad, passengers climbed five steps, climbing the height of the reusable New Shepard rocket of 160 feet, taking a short break in a fire-retardant “safety shelter for astronauts,” a firmly enclosed fireproof room that can be used in case of emergency evacuation. Then Bezos led the crew through a skybridge – each ringing a ceremonial silver bell as they crossed – to the capsule, which rests on New Shepard as, well, a sex toy. At 7:34, they entered the cage and were tied up. Funk hung a card of herself as a candidate for Mercury 13 in her window, with plans to take a photo when she arrived in space. At 7:43, Blue Origin technicians closed the trap and fell out of the portal. It was T-menu 21 minutes.
NASA’s two previous suborbital launches – 60 years ago – involved a lot of caliber controls and flipping switches. Bezos and his crew had nothing to worry about: New Shepard is completely led by the AI. They can look out over the region from their personal viewing screens on the sides of large windows designed for a luxurious view of the Earth and space.
There had been some reports of possible rain, but the day was amazing and clear. The count on the way back left with only a short wait of fifteen minutes; after the count left. The system went through the last two minutes of checks, all done by an automatic sequence, and then a voice from the mission control started counting back: “10, 9, 8, 7, 6 … i starter motors, 2 1. “
At 8:12 am, the steam poured from the bottom of the booster for a couple of seconds. “We’ve lifted it,” said the voice from the mission’s small control room on the base. Then the rocket jumped like a dart, navigating towards each other until all that was left to see was a fuzzy contrail, a donut that meant the temporary hole in the sky that New Shepard had escaped.
About three minutes later, the capsule, RSS First Step, separated from the rock and pushed the Earth’s atmosphere. This was: The crew was weightless. They were space travelers. While the live broadcast didn’t give thousands of viewers online video in real time, you could see a bit of audio that captured the exclamatory joys as the equipment unfolded and fluttered.
“Look out the window!”
The New Shepard rocket had already begun its descent to Earth when the capsule began its journey home smoothly. A loud boom announced his return, and in a flash of fire he landed safely on his pad. Shortly afterwards, the three red, white and blue parachutes unfolded. “You have a very happy team here, I want you to know,” Bezos told the control room.