Blue Origin New Shepard NS-19 Launch

Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital space tourism vehicle is scheduled to lift off on its third flight with passengers on board at 14:45 UTC on Saturday, 2021-12-11. (New Shepard countdowns tend to be herky and jerky with holds at seemingly random times for undisclosed reasons, so take that time as a “no earlier than”.)

This will be the first time New Shepard has carried the full complement of six passengers: earlier flights had four. If successful, the flight will (briefly) set a new record for the number of people simultaneously in space, with ten on the International Space Station, three on the Chinese Tiangong space station, and six going over the top of the hill in New Shepard. Continuing the tradition, this flight’s celebrity guest will be Laura Shepard Churchley, astronaut Alan Shepard’s daughter.


Watching this I can’t help but notice how much smaller the whole Blue Origin operation is compared to the Boca Chica Starship test facility. Leaving aside the difference in scale between the two rockets, Blue Origin’s operation on the ground seems to be a bunch of trailers, a long dirt road, and that’s about it.

Looks a lot more like a Disney ride than a space operation. The other difference is having one of the richest men in the Universe (as far as we can tell) - Jeff Bezos - as your ride operator. Right now, he shows up for a hug and a picture. I bet that by NS-51, he will be Photoshopped into the picture, just like they do today when you visit the NASA JSC Rocket Park.

Also, don’t get me started on “MeepsKitten”… Somewhere out there, Wernher must be spinning in his grave.

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Well, to be fair, for most of his career after the early years in the Verein für Raumschiffahrt, von Braun was entirely supported by money that governments, first Nazi Germany, and then the United States, coercively extracted from their subjects. This is a different proposition from people who have earned their money in other enterprises funding a free market company. It’s pretty clear that the latter will run a more austere operation than a “cost is no object” prestige-driven government programme. Even at Peenemunde, von Braun was known for extravagant expenditures. Walter Dorberger, in his postwar memoir V-2, recalls that when von Braun said that a supersonic wind tunnel was needed to solve the pre-detonation problems of the V-2 warhead, he insisted that the army handle its procurement and construction because otherwise von Braun would gold-plate the specifications and inflate the cost by a large factor.

One of the reasons SpaceX has been able to undercut the launch costs of von Braun legacy outfits such as NASA and ULA is because there are people in charge looking at the profit and loss implications of every engineering decision.


Fair point, though invoking Wernher was meant more tongue in cheek regarding the furry astronaut on the latest “mission”.

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Here is the official Blue Origin recap video of the mission.

In other news, as of 2022-01-01, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is abolishing the Commercial Space Astronaut Wings programme and will, in the future, simply publish a list of people who have reached their definition of “space” on an FAA-licensed flight on their Web site.

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