Advocate invited as media at Blue Origin historic launch
By Lisa Morton
When I received the phone call a couple of weeks ago from Brett Griffin of Griffin Communication for Blue Origin, I broke into applause because he said I would be at the first human launch at the spaceport in Culberson County. The event would also be the first time the Advocate has had media access to Blue Origin and founder Jeff Bezos since 2005. A day long-awaited. Not just by the Advocate’s previous owner, Larry Simpson, who published the exclusive Blue Origin story from Bezos, but from my late editor Robert Morales, who always told me, “One day he’ll walk back in that door.” The Advocate has had no relationship with Blue Origin, other than to publish the annual Seasons Greetings display in our special holiday edition. Not to mention, July 20, 2021 would also be the day Blue Origin opened the facility’s doors to anyone but employees and special guests. It felt like a modern-day version of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” except how it ends, of course.
Off I went in the early morning hours Tuesday, boarding a coach with journalists from Marfa and National and International teams like NBC, GeekWire, LA Times, and Forbes, to name a few. Hoping I had reviewed enough information for what could be my one opportunity for a question at the live post-launch press conference, I decided to relax and enjoy the ride after staying up all night.
The flashing amber lights that TXDOT placed on state Highway 54 that runs north from Van Horn, closing the section of road, did not seem to be much of a deterrent. Although familiar faces guided us through security at Launch Site One, I felt very much alone as we arrived at the huge metal helicopter hanger and make-shift media hub, set quite a distance from the launch site and readying New Shepard rocket.
The black morning sounds of the satellite TV equipment and bustling crews and the harsh floodlights were my only indication of what the Blue Origin launch site must be like. I soon realized that as invited media, I was there to witness the historic launch, not see it. As soon as the media group could get their laptops plugged-in, their noses were pointed down and I barely conversed with any of them. The Media Crew and Blue Origin safety personnel seemed well oiled but I can honestly say that I had never seen any of these people in Van Horn in the decade I’ve been at the Advocate. Not even while I was moonlighting as a bartender at their hotel of choice the 100-plus-year-old El Capitan.
A viewing site with a table that had tokens and complimentary sunscreen was set-up for us at the break of dawn with binoculars and tripods pointed at the launch site. So, I looked at the rocket’s hanger adorned with the feather logo, then followed to the left to see an emitting flame of fire and just a bit more left, I saw the New Shepard at a distorted view of the spiraling staircase. The reality was, there would be no chance for a once-in-a-lifetime photograph or clean video of the launch. I’d have only my experience to share and the hopes that I represented my community well.
T minus began and the long lens and the iPhone video were ready. Ignition was silent and I barely caught the rocket lifting above the platform, then watched it climb higher and higher, still struggling visually, reaching the point of a long trail of smoke when my emotions got the best of me and I cheered “Go Wally go,” catching myself to the proximity of the live feed and remembering that I’d read somewhere that journalists don’t cheer. Parachutes became visible and I ran to the outside TVs where the Blue Origin crew gathered to prepare for the celebratory “dust down” landing. It was over in the blink of an eye.
My work was not done for another five hours at Launch Site One. The rest of the day was finely orchestrated. I witnessed the live post-launch press conference and was infected, as many have been, by our fellow Texan Wally Funk. She was 28 again and she was great! Jeff Bezos’s choice to include Wally on the first human launch proved to be a brilliant one. The non-stop ear-to-ear grin on Oliver Daemen was sincere and sweet. Brother Mark Bezos was a rock sitting next to his brother who, as one of the four first astronauts with his space company, impressed upon me for the first time when he thanked the tiny town of Van Horn and spoke passionately of his visions. Bezos finished the press conference with an unannounced ceremony by his family, awarding 100 million dollars each to charity organizers honoring civility, Van Jones and Jose Andres.
With one more photo op to go, the scale of the facility became real. Shuttled to the landing pad then hustled to its edge, we watched a fleet of trucks approach from a long stretch of road. I knew this was our last chance to see Jeff Bezos and the new Blue Origin Astronauts. The grey matte finish Rivan trucks adorned with the Blue Origin feather looked like something out of Jurassic Park. They exited the caravan, pushed into place for the media, and were just as quickly rushed back into the trucks with a final thank you from Mr. Bezos and an abrupt shout from the media with a question unrelated to the day’s historic event. It was back to reality for this never-claimed-to-be-a-journalist gal from an even tinier town in Texas.