Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin launched another 6 people into suborbital space
Blue Origin completed its fourth crewed spaceflight, taking six passengers up into suborbital space.
The mission, called NS-20, launched a New Shepard rocket from Blue Origin's Launch Site One in West Texas on Thursday, March 31 at 9:58 a.m. EDT.
Roughly ten minutes after launch the crew came back down to Earth on a capsule slowed down by a parachute and a thruster boost just before touchdown.
The mission was called NS-20 as it is the 20th spaceflight of a New Shepard rocket, though it is the fourth to take humans into space. 'Saturday Night Live' star Pete Davidson was supposed to join the crew of NS-20, but he backed out after the flight was delayed.
The first crewed New Shepard mission took Blue Origin founder and CEO Jeff Bezos to space alongside aviation pioneer Wally Funk and two others on July 20, 2021. The second crewed flight took 'Star Trek' star William Shatner to space, while the third took 'Good Morning America' host Michael Strahan up to suborbital space.
After Davidson backed out of SN-20, his seat was taken by Blue Origin's Gary Lai, the chief architect of the New Shepard system. Prior to New Shepard's first crewed launch, Lai said he believes New Shepard is so safe, that he would send his own kids up on one of the launch vehicles.
After the flight, Lai told Blue Origin employee Sarah Knights in an interview, "I don't know that I could even, [that] words could do that justice. You just have to feel it."
Suborbital space tourism
The other crew members besides Lai were five paying customers: angel investor Marty Allen, SpaceKids Global founder Sharon Hagle, Tricor International CEO Marc Hagle, entrepreneur Jim Kitchen, and Commercial Space Technologies, LLC president George Nield.
Though Blue Origin hasn't disclosed how much it charges each of its crew members, Space.com reports that it doesn't typically charge its celebrity passengers. In this case, Lai flew for free, as he is a Blue Origin employee. As a point of reference, Blue Origin's direct competitor Virgin Galactic currently charges $450,000, though it is yet to begin full commercial operations. Virgin Galactic CEO Richard Branson and several other crew members also flew up to suborbital space on four test missions last year.
In September last year, SpaceX broke new ground in the space tourism race with its Inspiration4 mission, which allowed an all-civilian crew of four to remain in orbit aboard one of its Crew Dragon capsules for four days. Blue Origin was founded in 2000, two years before SpaceX, but the company is yet to reach orbit. It is not purely focused on space tourism, however, and it lost out to SpaceX last year in a bid to build a lander for NASA's upcoming Artemis Moon missions. In October last year, Blue Origin also announced that it will send a private "space business park" into orbit by 2027 as part of a collaboration with NASA.