Blue Origin launched its New Shepard rocket on another sub-orbital flight from West Texas Wednesday and as the company inches closer to adding humans on board some employees conducted astronaut operations as if they were launching.
The company — founded by billionaire, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — was targeting after 11:56 a.m. ET to launch New Shepard from its launch site in Van Horn, Texas. After a few delays, the rocket lifted off at 12:50 p.m.
The flight marked the 15th sub-orbital launch for New Shepard.
Blue Origin plans to eventually launch paying customers in the capsule. For Wednesday’s flight, employees stood in for those commercial astronauts taking the final steps before launch but wouldn’t be going along for the ride.
Blue Origin personnel climbed the launch tower, got into their seats, buckled in and conducted a communications check with the Capsule Communicator. The hatch then briefly closed as teams prepared for launch but the astronaut stand-ins then got out before the actual liftoff.
One of those personnel included New Shepard design Senior Director Gary Lai, who is considered “the architect” of the New Shepard capsule and has been with the company for 17 years.
Two of the astronaut stand-ins, including Lai and Blue Origin Vice President of Legal Audrey Powers got inside the capsule and strapped in atop the fully fueled rocket.
As featured on today’s #NewShepard webcast, Caitlin takes us on a tour of Launch Site One for the first time. Take a look at what astronauts will see and do before their flight to space. pic.twitter.com/ZASlxqADYj— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) April 14, 2021
The company has yet to provide a timeline as to when it will begin launching people. Those customers will arrive at the facility in Texas three days before their flight where they will live in the astronaut village not far from Launch Complex 1 and train for their flight, according to Blue Origin Astronaut and New Glenn Sales Director Ariane Cornell.
“We are well on our way to flying astronauts,” Cornell said during Wednesday’s launch livestream. Later saying, “we will not be flying them to space but we are doing just about everything but today.”
The company also revealed that a Blue Origin employee will be embedded with the commercial astronauts overseeing their training and events leading up to launch in a position known as CrewMember 7.
After New Shepard launched and the capsule separated, reaching the edge of space, both then return to land in Texas less than 10 minutes later.
The capsule reached nearly 350,000 feet and up to 2,247 mph at maximum velocity, according to Blue Origin.
What was along for the journey will be Blue Origin’s test dummy Mannequin Skywalker and postcards from 25,000 students as part of Blue Origin’s Club for the Future website.
Post-launch, Blue Origin will be donating Mannequin Skywalker to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Re-watch the launch and landing below:
Use the form below to sign up for the ClickOrlando.com space newsletter, sent every Wednesday afternoon.