October 13th, 2021 was a great day for space fans and Trekkies alike as the Blue Origin New Glenn rocket and space capsule system took Captain James T. Kirk – world-famous William Shatner –, and three other people for a sub-orbital flight lasting just under ten minutes.
Dubbed flight NS-18, the mission was the second flight of the New Shepard rocket to carry human passengers. It launched from Blue Origin’s launch facility in West Texas in the mid-morning, right on schedule.
The launch, booster separation, and subsequent return to earth occurred without a hitch. The New Shepard capsule reached a maximum altitude of over 340,000 feet or over 100 kilometers. Surpassing the official barrier required to qualify as astronauts.
The successful touchdown cemented William Shatner’s place as the oldest person ever to fly to space at 90 years young.
Blue Origin and its founder Jeff Bezos have come under fire for what’s been perceived as launching strictly propaganda flights that last only very short periods of time. Shatner and the team only had their feet off the ground for 10 minutes and 15 seconds today. The criticism comes after Bezos failed to stop NASA from awarding contracts for the upcoming Artemis manned missions to the moon to competing SpaceX with legal actions.
Failures to rock the boat at NASA aside, the successful launch and return of one of the science fiction’s most beloved actors can only be a profound positive for a private company looking to stay competitive with billions of dollars worth of contracts due to present itself in the coming years.
In the meantime, work continues on refinements to new Shepard infrastructure, and further developments in the upcoming New Glenn heavy-lift orbital launch vehicle, Blue Origin and SpaceX’s Starship program are due to kick off a space race not involving any nations or governments, but rather the two wealthiest men alive.