New Shepard second manned launch a success
By Shanna Cummings
Blue Origin’s second manned suborbital launch is in the books. This is the 18th consecutive successful launch for the New Shepard rocket.
The NS 18 crew included Blue Origin VP of Mission and Flight Operations Audrey Powers, actor William Shatner, and customers Chris Boshuizen and Glen De Vries.
Shatner is known best for playing Star Fleet captain James T. Kirk in the Star Trek television series and movies. At 90, he is currently the oldest astronaut in history.
The capsule also carried thousands of postcards from Club for the Future’s Postcards to Space.
The latest additions to the roster of astronauts enjoyed an extra day of anticipation at the Astronaut Village after the flight was postponed a day due to high winds.
Launch day had its own brief delays. During the last countdown hold, the crew – strapped into the capsule at the top of the rocket – listened to messages from the NS 16 crew, Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemon, who had been in a similar state of exhilarated trepidation 10 weeks prior on the verge of Blue Origin’s inaugural manned launch.
Finally all cleared for liftoff, and New Shepard lifted into the sky with a burst of flame and powerful roar at 9:49 a.m. Viewed from the ground, flame turned to contrail and the rocket shrank to a bright point of light in the sky before disappearing from view.
After releasing the capsule on to its apogee of 347,539 ft above ground level, the booster landed itself almost directly in the center of the landing pad, accompanied by its sonic boom rolling over the countryside. Meanwhile at the edge of space, the astronauts in the capsule enjoyed their time in zero gravity and the view of the Earth’s curvature before strapping back in for reentry. Ten minutes and 17 seconds after launch, the capsule and crew parachuted gently back to terra firma on a cushion of air, touching down at 9:59 a.m.
Crewmembers were greeted by Jeff Bezos as he opened the hatch. “Hello, astronauts! Welcome to Earth!” The newly-minted astronauts were joined shortly after by family and friends for the traditional celebratory champagne shower.
During the press gathering at the landing pad Wednesday afternoon, with the booster in the background, the crew described their experience.
“Nothing we did could prepare us” for the physical experience of the launch, Shatner said. “The simulation was really nice, but it doesn’t come near to the forces, the grandeur, the whole experience.”
Powers, who was a flight controller for NASA before joining Blue Origin, said “I could not believe how I was sitting on top of that rocket, waiting.” Though she thought she would be anxious, she said she was startled by how calm she felt at the time.
“The Gs are a little bit hard to simulate on Earth,” Powers said. “The training is great because you know what to expect and in what order, but it’s just an overwhelming reality when we finally get there.”
“What surprised me was on reentry, when you hit the atmosphere,” Boshuizen said. “The way they describe it as, if you throw a stone in a lake when the stone hits the lake it stops and then it sinks. So, we literally hit the atmosphere and stopped, and it was about five feet. And I’ve never experienced that before.”
“Ever see one of those movies where it starts on an object then it keeps zooming, zooming, zooming, zooming all the way out to Earth? That’s what we saw,” De Vries said.
What did they do with their time at the edge of space?
“We spent a lot of time looking out the window,” De Vries said. “We had a moment of camaraderie at the apogee, and we enjoyed the view as much as we possibly could.”
How did the crew mentally prepare themselves for the launch?
Audrey Powers: “I think the repetition that we’ve had in the training was very, very helpful to just kind of calm, and know what to expect. But I think there really isn’t anything here on Earth that can prepare you for sitting on top of a rocket like that and waiting for it to – ”
“Explode,” Shatner interjected.
“Yeah, that explosion,” Powers finished. “It’s a very sensational experience.”
Shatner had struggled just after touchdown that morning to express how deeply the view of Earth from space had affected him. He later explained that the experience had shown him how fragile life is and how much we need to protect it and the planet.