Blue Origin sends art and science to space and back

A little more than a month after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos took a rocket ride, his Blue Origin space venture set another New Shepard suborbital spaceship to the final frontier — but this time the high-profile payloads were paintings, not people.

Blue Origin’s 17th New Shepard mission lifted off from the company’s suborbital spaceport in West Texas at 9:31 a.m. CT (7:31 a.m. PT) today, after a couple of countdown holds that provided opportunities for last-minute checks of the rocket and its payloads.

The reusable vehicle that Bezos and three crewmates rode last month was optimized to fly passengers, but the spaceship for today’s flight was optimized to carry research payloads instead. No humans were riding along for this particular rocket ship’s eighth suborbital outing.

The flight followed the standard profile for New Shepard: The hydrogen-fueled booster pushed the capsule to an altitude of 347,434 feet (105.9 kilometers), which is above the 100-kilometer (62-mile) “Karman Line” that marks a widely accepted outer-space boundary.

Minutes later, the booster touched down autonomously on a landing pad not far from the launch site. “Just like she was landing on the moon,” launch commentator Jacki Cortese said.

Meanwhile, the capsule experienced a few minutes of weightlessness, and then descended to a parachute-aided landing in the Texas desert. The flight took 10 minutes from launch to the capsule’s touchdown.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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