Blue Origin launches Michael Strahan, Laura Shepard Churchley and more in space and return

This morning, space tourism firm Blue Shepard successfully launched its third passenger crew into space and back on the firm’s New Shepard rocket, the first time a group of six has flown together on the vehicle. The crew included GMA host Michael Strahan and Laura Shepard Churchley, the eldest daughter of Alan Shepard – the first American in space and the namesake of the New Shepard rocket.

New Shepard took off just after 10 a.m. ET on Saturday morning from Blue Origin’s launch facility in Van Horn, TX. The entire flight lasted just over 10 minutes from takeoff to landing. Inside a crew capsule atop the New Shepard rocket, the six-person crew climbed to an altitude of 351,225 feet, or over 66 miles above Earth, which is considered to be above the limit of space. After a few minutes of weightlessness, the capsule carrying the crew touched down in the Texas desert, while the New Shepard successfully landed on an airstrip.

Today’s team also included Evan Dick, engineer and investor, as well as Lane Bess, founder of Bess Ventures and Advisory. Bess brought her son, Cameron Bess, making them the first father-child duo to travel together in space. The last member of the crew was Dylan Taylor, CEO of Voyager space and active investor in the space industry. These four were all paying customers on this flight, while Strahan and Churchley were “guests of honor.” Blue Origin has not disclosed how much each person paid for their seat.

Prior to today’s launch, Blue Origin had only sent four crews to space in New Shepard. The company’s first crewed launch in July launched famed Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, along with legendary aviator Wally Funk. The second flight in October featured actor William Shatner, best known for playing Captain James Kirk on the Star Trek TV show.

Image: Blue Origin via Youtube

The six passengers on today’s flight are expected to receive their commercial astronaut wings from the Federal Aviation Administration, which historically gave the little pins to people who fly above 50 miles. However, this week the FAA announced that it would end the practice by the end of the year, citing the dawn of the era of commercial space tourism. Going forward, it will now list all future astronauts who fly above 50 miles on the agency’s website. That means the six people on today’s flight could be the last to receive FAA wings.

Today’s flight comes after the FAA said it had closed an investigation into Blue Origin’s safety culture. The FAA initially opened an investigation in October, after 21 former and current company employees wrote an essay, accusing Blue Origin of a culture plagued by sexual harassment and safety concerns. However, the FAA says The edge that it found “no specific safety concerns” after reviewing the allegations.

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