June 21, 2024
1 Solar System Way, Planet Earth, USA
Discovery

Blue Origin resumes passenger flights, takes six-person crew and 90-year-old aerospace pioneer into space – Spaceflight Now

An elated Ed Dwight, at 90 years old the oldest person to fly in space, shows his excitement after finally reaching space more than 60 years after being denied the opportunity to become the first African-American astronaut. Image: Blue Origin.

Ed Dwight, a 90-year-old artist and former Air Force test pilot who was denied the chance to become the first African-American astronaut six decades ago, finally launched into space on Sunday, fulfilling a cherished dream in a short time. up and down. flight out of the lower atmosphere.

“Absolutely fantastic!” he exclaimed after the touchdown. “A life-changing experience. Everyone needs to do this!”

Strapped into a Blue Origin New Shepard capsule, Dwight and five crewmates (a retired accountant, an Indian pilot and adventurer, a software engineer, a French entrepreneur, and a venture capitalist) took off from the company's owner's launch site. , Jeff Bezos, in West Texas, just after 10:35 a.m. EDT, rising into a cloudless sky.

It was the company's first flight at New Shepard with passengers on board since a booster failure two years ago derailed an unmanned research flight. A successful repeat of the mission late last year, also without crew on board, paved the way for the resumption of passenger flights.

“There was a part of my career that wasn't quite realized, and here's a great opportunity at this late date to fulfill it out of self-satisfaction, yes,” Dwight said in a pre-release interview with CBS News.

“But the most important thing is to satisfy all the wonderful people who have showered me with love over all these years. Because those are the people who wanted me to go to space in the worst way. For them (this) is justice.”

During Sunday's 10-minute suborbital flight, New Shepard's hydrogen-powered single-stage rocket accelerated the crew capsule to more than 2,100 mph to an altitude of 185,000 feet before releasing it to continue ascent. At that point, unweighted, the crew reached an altitude of about 65 miles, a few miles above the internationally recognized “boundary” between the discernible atmosphere and space.

Blue Origin's New Shepard booster and crew capsule rolled away from the company's launch site in West Texas on Sunday to begin the first crewed flight since a booster failure two years ago. Image: Blue Origin.

Between the booster cutoff and capsule reentry, the six crew members were able to unbuckle and enjoy about three minutes of weightlessness, enjoying spectacular views of the Earth below as the spacecraft arced over the top of its trajectory. to descend to a parachute. assisted landing a few thousand meters from the launch pad.

“I didn't think I needed this in my life,” Dwight said after exiting the pod. “I lied!”

One of the spacecraft's three main parachutes failed to inflate fully, but the spacecraft is designed to land safely with just two parachutes and the crew, all smiles after landing, obviously had no problems.

At 90 years and eight months, Dwight is the oldest person to fly into space, surpassing by a few months the actor William Shatner, who launched aboard a New Shepard at the age of 90 in 2021. The aviatrix Wally Funk, who He joined Bezos for the company's first piloted flight and is third on the list of “oldest” astronauts, flying at 82.

A ticket to travel on a New Shepard is believed to cost around $500,000. Dwight's seat was sponsored by the nonprofit Space for Humanity with support from the Jaison and Jamie Robinson Foundation. Jaison Robinson flew aboard a New Shepard in 2022.

Dwight's crewmates (venture capitalist Mason Angel, French businessman Sylvain Chiron, software engineer Kenneth Hess, retired accountant and adventurer Carol Schaller, and Gopi Thotakura, a commercial airline pilot and second citizen) are believed to have Indian to fly into space) paid for their seats. , but the real costs are unknown.

Before launch, Dwight told CBS News that he hoped to see “the beautiful little round ball that we call Earth and that, by the way, we're not taking very good care of. But it allows you to have a different perspective.”

“I have a theory that I think every politician running for public office in the United States of America needs to make at least three orbits around the Earth in order to see what this place is all about,” he said. “And they would stop destroying it. That's my wish. “That would be a requirement for all those running for political office at the national level.”

As NASA's Mercury program progressed in the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy made it known that he wanted an African American in the space agency's astronaut corps. Dwight was cleared and trained at the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, going through the initial round of training.

But NASA did not select him as an astronaut and he resigned from the Air Force in 1966 with the rank of captain. After working in the private sector, Dwight earned an MFA in sculpture, focusing on pioneers in black history. He owns and operates Ed Dwight Studios in Denver.

The New Shepard Mission 25 crew (from left to right): French businessman Sylvain Chiron, software engineer Ken Hess, former astronaut candidate Ed Dwight, Indian pilot and adventurer Gopi Thotakura, investor Mason Angel and retired accountant and world traveler Carol Schaller. Image: Blue Origin.

“I've had, you know, 60 years to sit and think about all the parts of this,” he told CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan. “But the reason I have even the slightest interest in going to space now is that I've had a group of fans who have followed me since 1964, several generations, and the fan mail has never stopped.

“The more I think about it, what better way to satisfy my fans for the things they've been asking me for the last 60 years? And the opportunity to fly into space came.”

He said African-American astronaut Leland Melvin first broached the idea while the two were working on “The Space Race,” a documentary about the history of black astronauts and engineers in NASA's space program.

“This all happened in a relatively short period of time,” Dwight said. “We had been working on 'Space Race' and had been traveling around the country doing film festivals. We were involved in Q&A (and) how would you like to go up?” Melvin had contacts at Blue Origin, he added, “so he just evolved.”

Blue Origin was on a launch-per-month basis in September 2022 when an unmanned New Shepard carrying 36 experiments suffered a booster failure one minute after takeoff, causing an automatic abort. The capsule was propelled away from the booster and landed normally a few minutes later.

The abort was attributed to the failure of the nozzle of the BE-3 engine that powered the New Shepard rocket. After extensive research, Blue Origin modified the rocket to avoid similar failures and successfully launched another pilotless research flight in December 2023, paving the way for the resumption of passenger flights.

Blue Origin's New Shepard is competing against Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic to transport space tourists, professional astronauts and others on suborbital space flights. Virgin Galactic has launched 55 passengers on 11 flights of the company's Unity spaceplane so far, while Blue Origin has launched 38 men and women on seven flights.

While Virgin is focused solely on suborbital flights, Blue Origin is also building a lunar lander and a partially reusable orbital-class rocket, the New Glenn, to compete against SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters.

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