Whatever the reasons, Bezos ’announcement was surprising. Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith defended the plan at a pre-flight briefing, saying the two latest test flights proved that all systems were ready, and as everything that controls the spacecraft works autonomously, there was no need for human practice. “Honestly, we haven’t seen any value in gradual procedures,” he said, skipping the right to the wild part of the company’s motto. So, there would be no human test flight, but the first high-stakes trip with the boss, his brother, an octagonist and a teenager.
On the eve of the flight, the normally shy company suddenly turned to show business, releasing great videos and photos of the crew in their bright blue overalls. The original plans to house a modest newspaper contingent were dropped like a rocket, because the company invited dozens of journalists to its remote location in the desert of West Texas, where Bezos owns more than 300,000 hectares, and even a mountain range.
At 7:25 a.m. Central Daylight Time, on the company’s launch pad, passengers climbed five steps, scaling the height of a 160-foot New Shepard reusable rocket, stopping briefly at the fireproof “astronaut shelter,” a tightly closed fireproof room that can be used in case of emergency evacuation. Then Bezos led the crew to cross the celestial bridge — each ringing a silver ceremonial bell as they crossed — to the capsule, which rests on New Shepard, sex toy. At 7:34 they entered the opening and buttoned up. Funk pasted a postcard of herself as a Mercury 13 candidate on her window, with plans to photograph her when she arrives in space. At 7:43 a.m., Blue Origin technicians closed the opening and descended from the portal. It was T-minus 21 minutes.
Two previous suborbital NASA launches – 60 years ago – involved a lot of checking scales and turning switches. Bezos and his crew had nothing to worry about: New Shepard was completely driven by intelligence. They could watch the countdown from personal viewing screens on the sides of large windows designed for a luxurious view of the Earth and space.
There were reports of possible rain, but the day was stunning and clear. The countdown continued with only a slight delay of fifteen minutes; then the counting started again. The system went through the last two minutes of checks, all done in automatic order, and then a voice from the mission control started the countdown: “10, 9, 8, 7, 6 … start the command machines, 2 1.”
At 8:12 a.m., steam poured out of the bottom of the booster for a few seconds. “We have a dismissal,” said a voice from a small control room for missions at the base. Then the rocket jumped like an arrow, floating upward until all that was left was to see the blurry control, a donut marking a temporary hole in the sky through which New Shepard had slipped.
About three minutes later, the capsule, RSS First Step, detached from the rocket and pushed past the Earth’s atmosphere. That was it: the crew was weightless. They were space travelers. While the live feed didn’t provide thousands of viewers with real-time online videos, you could make out a portion of the sound that recorded cheers as the crew unbuttoned and floated.
“Look out the window!”
The New Shepard rocket had already begun landing on Earth when the capsule slowly began its journey home. A sound bang announced his return and in a burst of fire he landed safely on the pillow. Shortly afterwards, three red, white and blue parachutes were deployed. “There’s a very happy crew here, I want you to know,” Bezos told the control room.