New Shepard is at the heart of Blue Origin’s space tourism business. A booster missile at the bottom is six stories high with a capsule on top that can hold up to six crew members.
The suborbital rocket is named after Alan Shepard, the first American to reach space in 1961 and one of the astronauts who stepped on the moon. It starts from launch site One of Blue Origin, a launch pad in rural West Texas, about 160 kilometers from El Paso.
The full mission takes about 10 minutes. New Shepard takes off at an altitude of approximately 100 km, a widely recognized marker of where space begins and is known as the Kármán Line.
At peak height, the booster rocket releases its manned capsule. The booster then begins a descent back towards the ground and re-ignites its single motor to land vertically on a concrete slab five miles from its starting point.
At the same time back in space, the crew capsule hangs in a free fall from a height of 100 kilometers. The passengers experience about four minutes of weightlessness in weightlessness as well as the view of the slightly curved horizon of the earth, where the atmosphere meets space. Each seat has its own 3.5 foot by 2.3 foot window.
“I’m excited and afraid and a little nervous and a little scared about this brand new adventure,” Shatner said during an interview on NBC’s Today show on Monday.
During Blue Origin’s first manned flight in July, passengers unbuckled their seat belts and floated through the 530 cubic foot capsule, amused by the weightlessness. They tossed candy and did somersaults before going back to their seats.
During the free fall of the capsule towards land, she deployed a first set of parachutes to slow her speed, then another set of three larger parachutes to gently land the capsule at about 15 mph. Milliseconds before landing in the desert – also not far from the launch pad – the capsule releases a puff of air from its underside to cushion the landing. The seats inside are supported by a scissor-like mechanism that further limits impact.
Blue Origin had boasted that New Shepard’s crew capsule windows are the largest that can fly in space, but Elon Musk’s SpaceX snapped that superlative back in September when it housed its Crew Dragon capsule with a new glass dome Brought into near-earth orbit which extended 46 inches wide by 18 inches deep and covers a total of 2,000 square inches.
The star name in the four-person crew that Blue Origin will bring to the edge of space on Wednesday is William Shatner.
For all of you who haven’t been paying attention since these voyages of the starship Enterprise began over 50 years ago: Mr. Shatner, now 90, played the indomitable Captain James T. Kirk in the original “Star Trek”. TV Series that debuted in 1966. The show aired for three seasons, and Mr. Shatner returned as Kirk with members of the original cast for six films from 1979 to 1991. Captain Kirk died in Star Trek: Generations in 1994.
As the Trek media empire expanded since the original series (it now includes a growing multiverse of films and shows, plus video games, merchandise, conventions, and more), Mr. Shatner’s place as a true science fiction star has only strengthened.
“It looks like there’s a lot of curiosity in this fictional character, Captain Kirk, that goes into space,” Shatner said in a promotional video posted by Blue Origin on Twitter. “So let’s take part. Enjoy the ride. “
But his public life is by no means limited to “Star Trek”.
For years, Mr. Shatner played a hyperbolic version of himself as “The Negotiator” in commercials (some with a Trek touch) for the travel agency Priceline.
He won two Emmy Awards and was nominated for his roles in the related legal dramas “The Practice”. and “Boston Legal” in the 1990s and 2000s (his “Star Trek” work never received Emmy or Oscar nicks). He also received an Outstanding Guest Acting nomination for a number of cameos as The Big Giant Head on “3rd Rock From the Sun”.
His age has not stopped his work. At the beginning of the year he was alongside Jean Smart, 20 years younger than he was at 70, the leading actor in the romantic comedy “Senior Moment”.
Offscreen, Shatner has released several albums that cross the line between music and spoken word poetry (a style that spawned a particularly memorable performance of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” at the 1978 Science Fiction Film Awards). He hit Broadway in 2012 with a one-man show that crossed his life and career. And even as a ninety-year-old he kept up with the children and brought them with him his distinct personality to Twitter, which as an ideal platform to hype his newest adventure.
Mr. Shatner said in an interview with CNN last week that he brought a “little blue bag” of memorabilia with him on his foray into space, containing “three or four little trinkets” from family and friends.
But during the flight he wants to concentrate on looking back at planet earth.
“I plan to look out the window with my nose against the window,” he said during a chat last week with Blue Origin staffThe company posted clips of this on Twitter.
Then he added, “The only thing I don’t want to see is a little gremlin looking at me. Are you sure that won’t happen? “
Joey Roulette contributed to the coverage.
The liftoff is scheduled for Wednesday at 10 a.m. Eastern Time and Blue Origin will stream it live on its YouTube channel. The video starts about 90 minutes before the flight.
The launch was originally scheduled for Tuesday morning, but windy conditions over west Texas caused Blue Origin to postpone the launch by 24 hours. If the wind gets stronger on Wednesday, the company could postpone the flight for another 24 hours to Thursday.
Three more passengers will accompany Mr. Shatner on the flight on Wednesday:
Audrey Powers, a Blue Origin vice president who oversees New Shepard operations; like Mr. Shatner, she didn’t have to pay for her seat.
Chris Boshuizen, co-founder of Planet Labs, a company that builds small satellites, also known as CubeSats, which are used by various customers to monitor Earth from orbit.
Glen de Vries, CEO and co-founder of Medidata Solutions, a company that develops software for clinical trials.
Fortunately for all three, none of them will wear a red Starfleet uniform during the flight.
Dr. Boshuizen or Mr de Vries are the second and third paying passengers flying on a Blue Origin flight. The first was Oliver Daemen, an 18 year old man from the Netherlands. The company didn’t say how much these customers paid for their seats on the flights.
As ticket buyers, you’re something of an early investor in an industry that executives hope will one day be cheap enough to benefit a wider audience.
Ms. Powers practically flew into space on New Shepard in April when she and three other Company executives were “backup astronauts” for Blue Origin’s 15th flight of the New Shepard rocket. She and her colleagues essentially conducted a dress rehearsal for the missions with astronauts on board. Executives went through all of the steps to prepare for a launch – climb the missile tower, climb the capsule, close the hatch, and test the communications system – until they exited the capsule and exited the pad about 15 minutes before take off.