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GeekWire

Year in Space 2021: Commercial spaceflight era dawns

For 25 years, I’ve been recapping the top stories about space and looking forward to next year’s trends on the final frontier — and for most of that time, the dawn of the era of commercial spaceflight has been one of the things I’ve been looking forward to the most.

2021 was the year when that era truly dawned.

Sure, you could make a case for seeing the dawn in 2000, when a company called MirCorp basically leased Russia’s Mir space station for a commercial venture that fizzled out. Or in 2001, when customers began buying seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft heading to the International Space Station. You could also point to SpaceShipOne’s rocket trips in 2004, which won a $10 million prize for a team backed by Seattle billionaire Paul Allen.

But it wasn’t until this July that the first paying customer took a suborbital ride to space on a privately owned spaceship. That was Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen, who flew in Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule alongside the company’s billionaire founder, Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark and aviation pioneer Wally Funk.

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GeekWire

Crypto whiz bid $28M for space seat (and is buying more)

The winner of June’s $28 million auction for a seat on Blue Origin’s suborbital spaceship revealed himself today — and is buying tickets for five more people to fly with him a year from now.

It would be hard to come up with a quirkier résumé than the one put together by Justin Sun, the 31-year-old crypto pioneer who put in the winning bid.

He’s a Chinese-born entrepreneur who founded the Tron cryptocurrency platform and serves as the CEO of Rainberry Inc., the file-sharing company formerly known as BitTorrent Inc.

Sun, a protégé of Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, recently became a citizen of the Caribbean island nation of Grenada. Last week he was named Grenada’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization in Geneva.

Although his net worth is currently estimated at a mere $200 million, he’s no stranger to high-stakes bidding. In 2019, he bid $4.6 million just to have lunch with billionaire Warren Buffett.

Sun said he was drawn to Blue Origin’s vision of sharing the spaceflight experience with the wider public.

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GeekWire

Marking another first, Blue Origin launches six spacefliers

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture guided another suborbital space trip into the record books today — a trip that also marked a giant leap toward making space tourism routine.

When Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ship lifted off from Launch Site One near Van Horn, Texas, every one of the crew capsule’s six seats was filled for the first time ever. During the reusable craft’s previous two crewed missions, in July and October, only four spacefliers were on board.

The sextet included Laura Shepard Churchley, the eldest daughter of the late NASA astronaut Alan Shepard. His suborbital mission made him the first American in space in 1961, and inspired the name of the spaceship flying today.

“We did it, yay!” Churchley could be heard exclaiming just before touchdown.

Afterward, Churchley said her spaceflight was probably unlike what her father experienced. “I thought about Daddy when I was coming down,” she told Bezos. “I thought, gosh, he didn’t enjoy any of what I’m getting to enjoy. He was working!”

Blue Origin’s other special guest for the flight was Michael Strahan, who became the first American TV anchor (and football commentator) by virtue of his status at ABC’s “Good Morning America” (and Fox Sports). “I think it is safe to say that the word ‘touchdown’ has a new meaning for Michael Strahan today,” launch commentator Jacki Cortese said as the mission ended.

Back on the ground, Strahan said he was struck by the transition from the blue skies of Earth to the black sky of space. “It’s unreal,” he told Bezos. Strahan also mentioned the effect of high-G acceleration: “It’s not a facelift, it’s a face drop.”

Among the spacefliers paying an undisclosed fare were Bess Ventures founder Lane Bess and Cameron Bess, the first parent-and-child duo to go into space together. There’s a Seattle-area tech connection for Cameron, who uses he/she/they pronouns: They are a Twitch streamer (and a furry) who live in Redmond, Wash.

Rounding out the crew were Dylan Taylor, who is the chairman and CEO of Voyager Space and the founder of a nonprofit group called Space for Humanity; and Evan Dick, an engineer, investor and managing member of Dick Holdings LLC.

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GeekWire

Blue Origin explores the final frontier of merchandising

Jeff Bezos’ privately held Blue Origin space venture is starting to look more like the other company he founded: Amazon.

During the run-up to Dec. 11’s scheduled launch of the venture’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship, you could order a limited-edition Blue Origin sweatshirt created for spaceflier Michael Strahan’s brand, watch Strahan and Bezos mix it up on Thursday Night Football — and look forward to “Shatner in Space,” an Amazon Prime documentary about Star Trek captain William Shatner’s flight in October.

For now, the revenue from merchandising and media projects is certain to pale in comparison with the fares that Blue Origin’s suborbital spaceflight customers are paying, and with the multimillion-dollar awards that Blue Origin is getting from NASA for other space projects.

Nevertheless, the crossovers illustrate how one of Bezos’ big businesses could leverage marketing expertise from the other.

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GeekWire

Worries about winds delay Blue Origin space trip

Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard’s daughter will have to wait a little longer to take a ride on the suborbital spaceship that’s named after her father.

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has delayed its next New Shepard mission until Dec. 11, due to concerns about forecasted winds on Dec. 9 — the date that was originally set for Laura Shepard Churchley’s launch. Her late father was the first American in space in 1961, and his suborbital spaceflight was the inspiration for New Shepard’s name.

Five other spacefliers will be waiting alongside Churchley for the suborbital trip at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas: Michael Strahan, a co-anchor for ABC’s “Good Morning America”; Bess Ventures founder Lane Bess and Cameron Bess, the first parent-and-child duo to go into space together; and two business executives, Evan Dick and Dylan Taylor. Churchley and Strahan are flying as Blue Origin’s guests, while the others are paying an undisclosed fare.

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Universe Today

Mother and daughter win suborbital space trips

A wellness coach from Antigua and her daughter are getting tickets for a suborbital space trip, thanks to the latest in a line of out-of-this-world sweepstakes going back 20 years. And although not a single spaceflight sweepstakes winner has flown yet, there’s still significant value to such contests, financially and otherwise.

“Being able to give people of all ages and backgrounds equal access to space, and in turn, the opportunity to lead and inspire others back on Earth, is what Virgin Galactic has been building towards for the past two decades,” Virgin Galactic’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson, said today in a news release.

Branson himself broke the good news to Keisha Schahaff at her home on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Schahaff had entered a contest arranged in collaboration with the Omaze online sweepstakes platform and a nonprofit group called Space for Humanity this summer. She ended up winning the random drawing. Her grand prize? Two tickets for a ride on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity rocket plane, plus terrestrial travel expenses.

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GeekWire

Blue Origin aims to send astronaut’s daughter to space

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is planning to fly six suborbital space travelers next month, which would mark a first for the company’s New Shepard spaceship. And that’s far from the only first.

If the NS-19 mission proceeds as planned on Dec. 9, the people on board will include the first parent-and-child team in space, the first professional U.S. journalist in space, and the first daughter of an astronaut to go into space herself.

To cap it all off, the astronaut’s daughter is Laura Shepard Churchley — whose father, Alan Shepard, was the first American in space in 1961, providing the inspiration for New Shepard’s name.

“It’s kind of fun for me to say an original Shepard will fly on the New Shepard,” Churchley, 74, said in a video clip released by Blue Origin. “I’m really excited to be going on a Blue Origin flight. I’m very proud of my father’s legacy.”

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GeekWire

Weeks after Blue Origin trip, spaceflier dies in plane crash

A month after taking a suborbital space trip alongside Star Trek actor William Shatner, medical-technology entrepreneur Glen de Vries has died in a New Jersey small-plane crash.

New Jersey State Police identified de Vries, 49, as one of two people killed on Thursday when their single-engine Cessna 172 went down in a wooded area shortly after takeoff from Caldwell, N.J. The other fatality was Thomas P. Fisher, 54, NJ.com quoted authorities as saying.

De Vries was the co-founder of Medidata Solutions, a medical software company that was acquired by Dassault Systemes in 2019 for $5.8 billion. He bought a ticket for an undisclosed price from Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture to go on the company’s second crewed suborbital spaceflight in October – and trained alongside Shatner as well as Planet Labs co-founder Chris Boshuizen and Blue Origin executive Audrey Powers.

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GeekWire

Real-life space trip wows Star Trek’s starship captain

Reality caught up with science fiction today when Star Trek actor William Shatner, a.k.a. Captain James T. Kirk, briefly crossed into outer space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship.

In the process, the 90-year-old Shatner took the title of oldest human in space, less than three months after 82-year-old aviation pioneer Wally Funk set that record on Blue Origin’s first-ever crewed flight.

“How about that, guys?” Shatner could be heard saying during the descent. “That was unlike anything they described. … That was unlike anything you could ever feel.”

Today’s mission at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas was the 18th for the New Shepard breed of spaceships, including 16 uncrewed flights over the past six years. It marked a bright day for Jeff Bezos’ Kent, Wash.-based space venture, coming amid a set of challenges and controversies.

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GeekWire

How to watch William Shatner beam up to space

More than a half-century after William Shatner first played a starship captain roaming the galaxy in “Star Trek,” he’s getting a real-life ride to the edge of space — and you can watch the whole episode on real-life communicators, thanks to internet links that didn’t exist when the original TV series was made.

Shatner has had a long Hollywood career since then, including prime-time parts in TV series such as “T.J. Hooker” and “Boston Legal.” It’s been 28 years since he’s starred in a Star Trek movie  But if nothing else, the seasoned actor knows how to milk his signature role.

“It looks like there’s a great deal of curiosity about this fictional character — Captain Kirk — going into space,” Shatner said in a video released today by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture. “So let’s go along with it and enjoy the ride.”

If all goes according to plan, Shatner and three shipmates will enjoy their ride in Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship at 9 a.m. CT (7 a.m. PT) Oct. 13, at the company’s Launch Site One in West Texas. Blue Origin plans to stream coverage of the countdown via its website, starting 90 minutes before liftoff.