Rocket architect fills in for comedian on space trip

The soon-to-be spaceflier who’ll replace “Saturday Night Live” comedian Pete Davidson on the crew for next week’s launch of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship already knows what it’s like to get ready for liftoff.

That’s because he’s Gary Lai, Blue Origin’s chief architect for the New Shepard launch system. Lai served as an almost-astronaut during last April’s rehearsal for crewed flight at the company’s Launch Site One in West Texas. That was a practice run during which Lai and a crewmate strapped into their seats in the crew capsule, but then climbed out and left the launch pad just before liftoff.

Three months later, Blue Origin went ahead with its first-ever crewed space mission, with billionaire founder Jeff Bezos and three others on board. Two more trips followed, and now it’s Lai’s turn for real.

“I am deeply humbled, grateful and excited by the invitation to fly on New Shepard on the NS-20 mission,” Lai wrote in a posting on LinkedIn. (NS-20 refers to the fact that this will be the 20th mission for the New Shepard reusable launch system. Sixteen of those missions were uncrewed.)

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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