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The New Shepard Capsule seats up to six people, and is built for space tourism.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard crew capsule is designed to send up to six people to the edge of space and back. (Blue Origin Photoillustration)
Blue Origin New Shepard lifts off for its 12th mission on Dec. 11, 2019

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture live-streamed the first test flight of its first passenger-friendly space capsule on Thursday.

Everything went according to plan. Blue Origin launched a never-before-flown New Shepard crew capsule and booster from its West Texas facility on an uncrewed suborbital space trip, with coverage streamed via Blue Origin’s website and YouTube.

Coverage began 30 minutes before launch.

The reentry of the launch vehicle was marked with a distinctive *boom* *boom* as it hurtled towards the ground at a bit over Mach 3. Its air brakes opened on cue, and the Blue Origin vehicle made a perfect landing within the target circle on the landing pad.

The capsule has been dubbed the RSS First Step. RSS stands for “Reusable Spaceship,” while First Step refers to Blue Origin’s intent to use the craft for crewed flights beginning later this year.

This mission, known as NS-14, tested a number of communication and safety alert systems. A sensor-equipped test dummy nicknamed Mannequin Skywalker occupied one of the seats.

Among the payloads packed aboard the capsule was more than 50,000 postcards sent in by students around the globe through the auspices of Blue Origin’s Club for the Future educational campaign. Some of those postcards were even tucked inside Mannequin Skywalker’s pockets.

Previous batches of postcards were flown during New Shepard test missions in December 2019 and October 2020. Blue Origin flights began in 2016.

Blue Origin executives had thought New Shepard would be taking on crewed suborbital flights by now — but that was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Coronavirus complications added to the snags that are typically encountered in the course of testing a new spaceship.

The company isn’t yet taking reservations for passenger flights, and it hasn’t yet set the ticket price for New Shepard trips. But back in 2019, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said the price for the first commercial passengers would probably be in the range of “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Blue Origin builds the hardware for the suborbital New Shepard program at its headquarters in Kent, Wash. The company is also working on an orbital-class New Glenn rocket that will be built in and launched from Florida, as well as a lunar landing system that would be built for NASA’s use in partnership with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper.

New Shepard is designed to carry people on rides past the edge of space, reaching an altitude of more than 340,000 feet (or more than 100 kilometers). The capsule spends several minutes in zero gravity before returning to Earth, with massive windows to give passengers a view. Both the rockets and the capsules are reusable, with the boosters returning to land vertically and the capsules landing on control of a set of parachutes.

Blue Origin aims to launch the second test flight within six weeks, or by late February, and the first crewed flight six weeks after that, or by early April, according to reporting by NBC. Blue Origin’s next flight, NS-15, will also include a test of loading and unloading the crew.

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David Raiklen
David Raiklen

David Raiklen wrote, directed and scored his first film at age 9. He began studying keyboard and composing at age 5. He attended, then taught at UCLA, USC and CalArts. Among his teachers are John Williams and Mel Powel.
He has worked for Fox, Disney and Sprint. David has received numerous awards for his work, including the 2004 American Music Center Award. Dr. Raiklen has composed music and sound design for theater (Death and the Maiden), dance (Russian Ballet), television (Sing Me a Story), cell phone (Spacey Movie), museums (Museum of Tolerance), concert (Violin Sonata ), and film (Appalachian Trail).
His compositions have been performed at the Hollywood Bowl and the first Disney Hall. David Raiken is also host of a successful radio program, Classical Fan Club.

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