New Shepard completes fifth crewed suborbital flight


Updated at 11:30 a.m. EST with comments from the post-flight briefing.

WASHINGTON — Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle completed its fifth crewed suborbital flight on June 4, carrying six people, including the first Mexican-born woman in space and the company’s first regular customer.

New Shepard lifted off from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas at 9:25 a.m. Eastern Time. The crew capsule, with six people on board, landed 10 minutes after takeoff after reaching a maximum altitude of around 107 kilometers. The vehicle’s booster made a propelling landing nearly three minutes earlier.

The six people on board included Blue Origin’s first regular customer, Evan Dick, who flew the NS-19 mission in December 2021. Another, Katya Echazarreta, is a former Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer and the first woman born in Mexico to go into space. . She was selected for the flight by Space for Humanity, a non-profit organization that provides flights to space for those who cannot afford them on their own.

Others on the flight include pilot Hamish Harding; Brazilian engineer Victor Correa Hespanha, who is only the second Brazilian to go into space; businessman and adventurer Jaison Robinson; and Victor Vescovo, an explorer who has climbed some of the tallest mountains in the world and dived at the deepest point in the ocean, Challenger Deep.

In a post-flight press conference, Dick said his second trip to New Shepard was “maybe a little less exciting than the first time, but thanks to that I was able to focus a little more on the beauty” of seeing the Earth from above.

“I’ve dreamed of going to space all my life,” Echazarreta said. “No one can really imagine it until they have experienced it.”

The NS-21 mission was originally scheduled to launch on May 20. However, two days before launch, the company postponed it because an unspecified backup system on the vehicle “did not meet our performance expectations”. Blue Origin did not provide further details about the issue or how it resolved it.

The flight was New Shepard’s fifth time carrying people and the second flight of 2022. In February, Blue Origin chief executive Bob Smith said he expected his business this year to “easily double” the 14 people she took into space. 2021 on three New Shepard flights. He declined to say how many New Shepard flights, including crewed and payload-only ones, the company plans to launch this year.

Crypto and spaceflight

One of the crew, Hespanha, flew through an organization called Crypto Space Agency (CSA). He sold digital collectibles called non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and randomly picked one of the buyers for a seat on the flight.

One of CSA’s founders, Joshua Skurla, said in an interview that he and co-founder Sam Hutchison created the organization to tap into interest in space and “Web3” technologies like cryptocurrencies and blockchain. “It’s a disruptive time and there were going to be some really interesting ways to find convergence, or help drive convergence, between space and Web3,” he said.

This convergence includes participation in manned spaceflight. “We were excited to offer a flight to someone who might not have the means to pay for that flight on their own but was absolutely fascinated by space and wanted to be a part of it,” said he declared.

Skurla said the CSA purchased the seat in advance and then sold the NFTs on a “compressed” schedule for the flight. “Seat availability is not incredibly high, so you have to work around the rocket schedule,” he said. While the organization offers up to 5,555 NFTs, he said it sold “less than 300” when it chose Hespanha to go on NS-21, and around 400 from the flight.

He acknowledged that the sale of the NFTs did not cover the cost of the ticket. The CSA sells NFTs using the currency Ethereum, or ETH, with one NFT costing 0.25 ETH, or about $450 at the current value of Ethereum.

Ethereum was much more valuable at the end of April when the CSA started selling NFTs, part of a sharp overall drop in the value of cryptocurrencies. This would appear to harm the CSA’s ability to fund subsequent flights or other projects, but Skurla said he was not concerned. “We face a slightly different market now than when we put NFTs on sale,” he said. “Now is the perfect time for us to focus on building our core mission.”

Although it sounds like a high-tech sweepstakes, he said selling the NFT and selecting someone to fly on New Shepard is part of an effort to build a larger community. “We provide a platform for everyone to come together around the three CSA principles,” he said, which include human spaceflight as well as planetary defense support and research. extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).

Skurla said the CSA had identified opportunities to support both planetary defense and SETI, but did not disclose them. NASA currently spends $150 million a year on planetary defense activities, while billionaire Yuri Milner has pledged $100 million over 10 years for a SETI effort called Breakthrough Listen.

He argued that even if the CSA captures only a tiny fraction of the overall crypto market, it could still raise millions of dollars to spend on spaceflight, planetary defense and SETI. “It’s realistic to generate those kinds of numbers, and if we aspire to be a significant player in that space, then yes, we aspire to have those kinds of resources available to us.”

CSA isn’t the only crypto organization planning to fly on New Shepard. Declared blue origin in a tweet from April 25 that MoonDAO, another organization that sells NFTs, “bought seats on an upcoming New Shepard flight.” Neither Blue Origin nor MoonDAO indicated when these flights would take place.

In December, Blue Origin announced that Justin Lin, a Chinese cryptocurrency entrepreneur, had placed the winning bid for a seat on the first New Shepard crewed flight but, unable to go, purchased a flight instead. New Shepard dedicated to the fourth quarter of 2022. Lin said he would select five “space warriors” to accompany him on the flight, but since the announcement he has not provided any major updates on the selection process or other plans for the assignment.


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