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On Wednesday the October 13th Blue Origin launched its second crewed mission with the actor William Shatner and other three crewmates aboard. The company’s New Shepard vehicle reached the edge of space and successfully got back to the Earth. 

According to Space News, 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. The booster landed under rocket power about three minutes earlier.

New Shepard second mission
Image credit: theverge.com

There were four people aboard the New Shepard, where Shatner was a headliner. The actor is better known for his role as James T. Kirk on the original Star Trek television series and later movies. Right now Shatner is 90 years old, which made him the oldest person to fly to space. The previous record was 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 hope I never recover from this. I hope I maintain what I feel now,” he said. “Everybody in the world needs to do this.”

Shatner didn’t pay anything to be a member of this mission, but two others paid the sum of money which the company didn’t reveal. Chris Boshuizen is a co-founder of Earth observation company Planet and a partner at investment firm DCVC. He became the third Australian to go 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 Systèmes when it acquired Medidata in 2019.

New Shepard second mission
Image credit: theverge.com

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 played a lead role in getting New Shepard approved to fly people. 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. “Everything is in good shape for launch,” he said.

Shatner’s flight was indeed successful, but it can’t fully cover the company’s tough times.  Just before the mission, 21 current and former employees published an essay, criticizing Blue Origin’s culture as both sexist and unsafe. A recent Washington Post investigation also revealed employees think Blue Origin has “an authoritarian bro culture.”

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