Blue Origin’s space crew is waiting for the weather

Trainer Sarah Knights and future space flyers look at New Shepard’s crew pod. (Blue Origin via Instagram)

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has moved its next manned suborbital space mission to Thursday, amid weather concerns for Tuesday and Wednesday.

In a mission update, Blue Origin said “forecasted high winds during launch and recovery” forced a postponement of the launch of the company’s West Texas launch site One. The National Weather Service said winds could reach sustained levels of 35 to 45 mph Tuesday, with gusts as high as 60 mph.

Six space flyers — including the first married couple to go into space together in 30 years — have signed up for Blue Origin’s fourth manned suborbital flight.

“The team has completed the Flight Readiness Review and confirmed that the vehicle met all flight mission requirements,” said Blue Origin. “Astronauts complete their training and the weather remains the only determining factor.”

If all goes according to plan, Blue Origin will begin streaming video coverage of the countdown and launch this Thursday at 7:20 a.m. CT (5:20 a.m. PT). Launch updates are relayed via Blue Origin Twitter account

In an interview broadcast on “CBS News Mornings,” Sharon Hagle, the founder of SpaceKids Global, said she and her husband, Marc Hagle, CEO of Tricor International, were “very excited to be here.”

“We want to inspire children for STEAM+ education, especially young girls, because they are the next generation of space travelers,” she said. Among the activities she and her crew members undertook were: fill out postcards they will carry aboard their New Shepard spaceship for the Club for the Future, Blue Origin’s non-profit educational group.

“Saturday Night Live” comedian Pete Davidson was originally going to be on the run this week, but he had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts and was replaced by New Shepard’s chief architect Gary Lai.

Lai told CBS that he had long dreamed of flying the spaceship he helped design.

“Hundreds of people — dedicated, brilliant people — have worked on this program and I’m honored to be the chosen one to do it,” Lai said. “But I hope they all get this chance one day.”

The other crew members are George Nield, a former Federal Aviation Administration official who was involved in regulating commercial spaceflight; Jim Kitchen, a North Carolina teacher and entrepreneur; and Marty Allen, an angel investor and former CEO of Party America.

Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard craft is designed to transport the sextet beyond 100 kilometers (62 mi) for a few minutes of weightlessness and an astronaut’s perspective of the Earth below.

Bezos flew on the first manned mission last July. Star Trek captain William Shatner was part of the crew for the second flight in October, and Laura Shepard Churchley — the eldest daughter of pioneer NASA astronaut Alan Shepard — headlined the crew for the third flight last December. This is Blue Origin’s maiden flight in 2022, and the company says it plans to ramp up the pace in the coming months.

Budget looks to NASA’s future

The New Shepard suborbital space effort is just one of Blue Origin’s projects. The company is also leading the Orbital Reef consortium in a campaign to design a commercial space station for Earth orbit, and is competing to build a lunar lander for use in NASA’s Artemis lunar program.

Both programs were addressed today in the Biden administration’s fiscal year 2023 budget proposal. The $25.973 billion NASA is seeking includes $224 million for commercial space station development and $1.486 billion for human landing systems.

Jim Free, NASA’s associate administrator for exploration systems development, said the $1.486 billion would support work on SpaceX’s lunar Starship variant, as well as a second commercial lunar lander, which may or may not turn out to be the one proposed by Blue. Origin and its industry partners.

Free declined to say how much would be set aside for the second commercial team, on the grounds that providing a figure would tip NASA’s hand too much during the procurement process.

The Artemis program’s first moon landing is currently planned for 2025, using SpaceX’s Starship. NASA expects the second manned mission to the lunar surface to take place in the time frame of 2027-2028.

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