When New Horizons zipped by Pluto the other day, I read a comment somewhere that the oldest living person on Earth had been born before Orville and Wilbur Wright completed their first flight ... and now we've sent a spacecraft to the most distant planet in our solar system, and beyond. (Oh, go on, Neil deGrasse Tyson, you can say Pluto isn't a planet, but I say it is! So there!) How far we have come, so quickly!
Space has probably fascinated humans for as long as we've had the mental capacity to wonder what might be out there. (For me, that fascination is so great it inspired my first YA sci-fi, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse.) How can we not be curious? We are explorers, we are dreamers. Our imaginations are vast, and space is, after all, the final frontier.
And now, whereas a little more than one hundred years ago the idea of flying at all was still just a dream, commercial space flight -- commercial space flight, people! --is, quite possibly, just a few years away from becoming a reality.
Blue Origin, a privately funded aerospace manufacturer set up by Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos, is one of the companies working on this dream. When I heard that the company recently began taking "RSVPs" for its future flights, I had to find out more. (Note: despite reports to the contrary, they're not actually taking RSVPs. See below.)
My thanks to Jessica Pieczonka, Blue Origin -- Communications, for answering my questions!
Q: When did you begin accepting RSVPs?
A: Blue Origin offers the adventure of a lifetime with a real rocket ride. On April 29, we completed the first flight of our New Shepard space system, and we're looking forward to flying frequently and demonstrating the vehicle's capabilities during our test program. At its completion, we'll be ready for your flight. If you're interested in being a future flyer with us and gaining early access to pricing information and ticket sales, be sure to fill out our "Start Your Journey" form. You'll be the first to know when we're open for reservations.
Q: I know the company is working on both suborbital and orbital space flight. Can you tell me a little about what each of those terms means?
A: Blue Origin's New Shepard spacecraft flies a suborbital arc to space then returns directly to the launch site, rather than going on to orbit around the Earth. A suborbital flight crosses over the boundary of space at an altitude of 100 km. At these altitudes, you experience microgravity and can see the dark of space and the curvature of the Earth. Creative investigators will use the flexible access to this space environment to conduct investigations into microgravity sciences, to test engineering phenomenon in a space environment, or to observe the universe around us.
The New Shepard space vehicle blasts off on its first developmental test flight over Blue Origin's West Texas Launch Site. The crew capsule reached apogee at 307,000 feet before beginning its descent back to Earth. Photo credit: Blue Origin
Q: When will flights begin (what year, month, approximately)?
A: We won't be publishing a calendar for our test flight program. If you happen to be out in West Texas, though, you may see us climbing to space. Once we start flying astronauts, we will have a place for friends and families to come be part of the launch experience.
Q: Any timeline on orbital flights?
A: Orbital human spaceflights are definitely a part of our long-term plan. The work we are focused on right now with suborbital flights is part of the development path for future vehicles and missions.
Q: How long will each flight (talking again about the suborbital flights) last?
A: The complete flight is approximately 11 minutes of which you will be able to experience the freedom of weightlessness for about 4 minutes.
Q: How many people will be on each flight?
A: Capable of accommodating a solo experience or the ultimate trip for friends and family, Blue Origin's capsule is made to carry up to six passengers.
Video credit: Blue Origin
Q: Will a person be strapped in the whole time, or will they be able to move freely around the cabin?
A: On Blue Origin's real rocket ride, you'll experience the same sights, sounds and sensations as the great early space pioneers. You're going to lift off from the pad and travel three times the speed of sound. You'll feel the freedom of weightlessness, and cross over the internationally recognized boundary of space at 100km. There's enough room in our spacecraft to turn somersaults, and the views out the largest windows in spaceflight history will be awe inspiring. Your flight ends with a classic parachute landing that provides a gentle return home, where you will return as an astronaut.
Q: How much does it cost?
A: No pricing information being released at this time.
Q: From where will they launch?
A: Our suborbital launch site in West Texas is our principal base of New Shepard flights. We may expand to additional locations in the future as we continue to grow and move into orbital flights.
Video credit: Blue Origin
Q: Will people need special training before the flight?
A: We're designing a full training program in West Texas where astronauts will spend a few days preparing for their flights. They won't need to go through months of training, though -- we've designed the experience to be accessible to a wide range of explorers.
Q: Is there a screening process, to determine who can and can't go?
A: Our ultimate goal is to open up spaceflight to as many people as can safely experience it, and Blue Origin's spacecraft is designed to be a less demanding environment than traditional government flights. We will work with astronauts and have them talk with their physicians about their own limits in experiencing this adventure of a lifetime. We're also bound by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, which currently requires astronauts to be over the age of 18.
After a clean separation from the propulsion module, the New Shepard crew capsule descends to a gentle landing in the west Texas desert. Photo credit: Blue Origin
Q: What are the risks involved?
A: We've got an incredible team of world-class experts, including two former NASA astronauts, who have been working methodically on every detail of our spacecraft. From the beginning, our approach has been best described by our company motto -- Gradatim Ferociter or "Step by step, ferociously."
We recently completed the first flight of our New Shepard space system, and we're looking forward to flying often as part of our test program. During this test program, we'll test, learn, refine, and test again to demonstrate the vehicle's capabilities and reliability. As an example, a key mission assurance feature that we're proud to have is a full envelope escape system, which provides our future astronauts with a further means of protection during their ride to space.
Q: Will the flights have crews? Pilot and flight attendants?
A: We've designed a system that is fully autonomous and doesn't require on-board pilots. Each flight is managed by our experienced Mission Control team.
For more information, see the Blue Origin website, follow them on Twitter and check out their videos on YouTube.
Somewhere between funny and philosophical lies the truth in Pam Stucky's writing. Pam is the author of several books including the Wishing Rock series (Northern Exposure-esque contemporary fiction, with wit, wisdom, and recipes); the Pam on the Map travelogues (wit and wanderlust); and the YA Sci-Fi The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (wonder and wisdom). Pam's driving forces are curiosity, the pursuit of happiness, the desire to thrive, and the joy in seeing others do the same. Pam is currently working on writing a screenplay, because life is short, so why not try?