Blue Origin resumes crewed New Shepard suborbital flights


WASHINGTON — Blue Origin conducted its first crewed New Shepard mission in nearly two years May 19, carrying six people, including the first American Black astronaut candidate, on a suborbital spaceflight the company called a success despite a parachute issue.

New Shepard lifted off from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas at about 10:36 a.m. Eastern. The countdown was held for more than 20 minutes at the T-10 minute mark for an unspecified technical issue.

The vehicles ascent appeared to go as planned, and the vehicle’s propulsion module landed under rocket power at a pad near the launch site. However, one of three parachutes on the crew capsule did not fully inflate during the capsule’s descent. Company officials stated on the webcast that the capsule is designed to land safely with only two parachutes, and after the capsule’s touchdown said all six people on board were in good condition.

The six-person crew of NS-25 featured Ed Dwight, a 90-year-old former U.S. Air Force pilot who, in 1961, was selected by the Kennedy administration to be the first Black astronaut candidate. He graduated from the Air Force’s Aerospace Research Pilot School but was not selected by NASA in its next astronaut classes. He left the Air Force in 1966 and became a sculptor. Dwight’s inclusion on NS-25 was sponsored by Space for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that arranges for flights for individuals on commercial spacecraft.

Besides Dwight, the others on the NS-25 mission were:

  • Mason Angel, founder of venture capital firm Industrial Ventures;
  • Sylvain Chiron, an aviator and pilot who founded Brasserie Mont Blanc, one of France’s largest craft breweries;
  • Ken Hess, a software engineer and entrepreneur who later created a STEM education nonprofit organization, Science Buddies;
  • Carol Schaller, a retired accountant and adventure traveler; and
  • Gopi Thorakura, a pilot who operates a center for holistic wellness and applied health.

The flight was the first time New Shepard carried people since the NS-22 mission in August 2022. In September 2022, the NS-23 flight of New Shepard — one that carried only research payloads and no people — suffered an engine problem a minute after liftoff, triggering the crew capsule’s abort motor. The capsule landed safely but the propulsion module was destroyed.

An investigation blamed the mishap on the structural failure of the nozzle of the vehicle’s BE-3PM engine. That nozzle experienced temperatures higher than designed, requiring Blue Origin to make design changes.

New Shepard finally returned to flight in December 2023 with the NS-24 mission, a reflight of the payload-only NS-23 mission. At the time company officials said they would resume crewed flights “soon” but did not offer a more specific timetable.

The long hiatus in New Shepard flights prompted industry speculation about the future of the vehicle and the priority it has within the company. Blue Origin is also working on its New Glenn orbital launch vehicle, slated to make its first flight later this year after years of delays, as well as the Blue Ring orbital transfer vehicle and Blue Moon lunar lander, all projects discussed during the NS-25 webcast.

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