Health Care

Local high school seniors watch rocket launch carrying experiment they built

Local high school seniors watch rocket launch carrying experiment they built”

Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket and spacecraft lift off from the company's West Texas launch site on May 2, 2019.

Blue Origin, a private American spaceflight company founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, launched its New Shepard on Thursday, bringing NASA-sponsored payloads into suborbital space for a few minutes of microgravity testing. If that tempo continues, and if Blue Origin truly intends to begin crewed flights by the end of the year, there can't be many more uncrewed practice runs left on the test schedule.

The New Shepard rocket sent the company's capsule to an altitude of 346,406 feet - more than 100 kilometers up. The capsule, meanwhile, deployed three parachutes to slow its decent and was traveling about 16 miles per hour before hitting the ground, kicking up a puff of sand.

When it is ready to transport humans, the capsule of New Shepard will be able to accommodate six people in a space ten times larger than the one Alan Shepard had on his Mercury flight in 1961. Thursday's launch from Blue Origin's Van Horn facility is the fifth flight for this particular vehicle, and 11th overall for the New Shepard booster. The rocket booster beat the capsule back to Earth, making a ideal tail-first landing on the cement landing pad. The New Shepard capsule is created to carry a half-dozen space tourists, researchers and/or experiments out of the discernible atmosphere for brief visits to the lower fringes of space. During each launch, the booster climbs through the atmosphere, carrying the capsule beyond the edge of space - about 62 miles up. Reusability is a key part of Blue Origin's plan to turn space tourism into a business.

Blue Origin plans to begin launching citizen astronauts later this year as well, but no target launch dates have been announced. If the capsule had been filled with space tourists, this would have been the time where they would have experienced zero gravity. Students joined together to watch the launch. Successful test flights are a big step toward that eventual goal but it's important to note that not a single person has ever ridden on one, and the safety of passengers is obviously a top priority.

A future iteration of this rocket will be used to carry humans to the Moon and Mars, and it will also form the basis for the next Blue Origin rocket, the New Glenn. The engines also will be used by United Launch Alliance's upcoming Vulcan rocket, meant to replace workhorse Atlas and Delta boosters.

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