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Explained: What is the New Shepard Rocket System by Blue Origin?

Arfa Javaid

Blue Origin launched its first crewed mission aboard the New Shepard rocket on 20 July 2021. The lift-off took place at 9 a.m. EDT (6:30 p.m. IST) from Blue Origin's Launch Site One in West Texas and launched Bezos and his three crewmates-- his brother Mark Bezos, Mercury 13 and aviation pioneer Wally Funk and 18-year-old Oliver Daemon. All the crewmates wore Blue Origin's standard-issue flight suits.  The entire trip lasted for a total of 11 minutes. The crew experienced zero gravity for a total of three minutes.

Congratulations to all of Team Blue past and present on reaching this historic moment in spaceflight history. This first astronaut crew wrote themselves into the history books of space, opening the door through which many after will pass. #GradatimFerociter #NSFirstHumanFlight

— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) July 20, 2021

Our astronauts have completed training and are a go for launch. #NSFirstHumanFlight

— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) July 19, 2021

New Shepard First Human Flight

Of late, Blue Origin concluded the online auction for the first seat on New Shepard. More than  7,600 people registered from 159 countries to bid for this seat, which ultimately went for a winning bid of $28 million.

The winner will fly aboard New Shepard along with Jeff Bezos and his brother, when it takes its first human flight on 20 July 2021-- the 52nd anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moon landing.

In 2018, Blue Origin was selected by NASA to conduct studies and advance technologies to collect, process and use space-based resources for missions to the Moon and Mars. In 2019, an agreement was inked between Blue Origin and NASA. With this agreement, Blue Origin gained rights to use NASA’s historic test stand. 

About the New Shepard rocket system

Named after astronaut Alan Shepard (the first American to go to space), New Shepard is a rocket system developed by Jeff Bezos's space company Blue Origin to take astronauts and research payloads past the Karman line, the internationally-recognized boundary of space.

It aims at providing easier and cost-effective access to space for academic and research-oriented purposes. It will also allow space tourists to experience microgravity by taking them 100 km above the Earth.

New Shepard consists of two parts-- the cabin or capsule and the rocket or the booster. The cabin or capsule can accommodate experiments from Mini Payloads up to 100 kg and will provide easier space access to students who are part of educational institutions that are developing their own space programs, for less than the price of new football uniforms.

Furthermore, it can house six people and sits atop a 60 feet tall rocket that separates from it before crossing the Karman line, after which both vehicles fall back to the Earth. All the six seats in the capsule are meant for passengers having their own window seat.  It is interesting to note that there will be no pilot as the capsule is fully autonomous. 

The system is a fully reusable, vertical takeoff and vertical landing space vehicle that accelerates for about 2.5 minutes before the engine cuts off.

After its separation from the booster, the capsule free falls in space and lands back with the help of parachutes, while the booster performs an autonomously controlled vertical landing back to Earth. 

New Shepard rocket system successfully completed its seventh test launch: Here's what you need to know

What is space tourism?

Space tourism is the ability to make space more accessible to those individuals who are not astronauts and want to go to space for non-scientific purposes. Dennis Tito became the first space tourist in 2001.

Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin is expected to begin space flights meant for space tourists this year. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is also working on sending tourists to space.

As per a report by CRS, the concept of space tourism is 'fairly new'. The report further mentions that Space Adventures, founded in 1997, offer bookable space-related adventures. To date, it is the only private company that send paying customers to orbital space and has sent seven paying customers to space between 2001 and 2009.

In 2004, test pilot Mike Melville became the first private astronaut to fly beyond the Karman Line. In 2008, billionaire Richard Garriott became the sixth private citizen to fly to space aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft by paying over $30 million and spend about 12 days at the ISS. In 2011, space tourism was halted after NASA suspended its shuttle program. 

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