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Comedian Pete Davidson gets his space trip confirmed

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has confirmed that “Saturday Night Live” comedian Pete Davidson will be going to space next week, less than a year after he portrayed a hapless Mars astronaut on NBC’s late-night sketch show.

Bezos won’t be accompanying Davidson, even though that was the impression given by some of last week’s gossip about the flight. Instead, five paying passengers will be riding alongside the 28-year-old actor, who co-wrote and starred in a semi-autobiographical movie titled “The King of Staten Island” in 2020.

The other five spacefliers listed in today’s announcement are:

  • Marty Allen, an angel investor and the former CEO of Party America and California Closet Company, among other ventures.
  • Marc Hagle, the president and CEO of Tricor International, a residential and commercial property development corporation.
  • Sharon Hagle, the founder of SpaceKids Global, a nonprofit organization focusing on STEAM+ education, with a special emphasis on empowering girls. SpaceKids participates in the Postcards to Space program led by the Club for the Future, Blue Origin’s educational foundation. Marc and Sharon Hagle are husband and wife.
  • Jim Kitchen, a teacher, entrepreneur and explorer who has served on the faculty of the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School since 2010.
  • George Nield, a former associate administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation who is now the president of Commercial Space Technologies.

Blue Origin said Davidson would be getting a free flight as the company’s guest. The company declined to say how much the other fliers would be paying for their trips.

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Fiction Science Club

Get a way-out reality check on dreams of leaving Earth

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos wants to have millions of people living and working in space — that’s why he founded his Blue Origin space venture more than two decades ago. But what if living in space turns out to be like holing up in an Amazon warehouse?

“The reality of going to another planet in our current environment, I think … the best analogy is an Amazon fulfillment center,” Taylor Genovese, an anthropologist at Arizona State University, says in “Last Exit: Space,” a new documentary about space settlement narrated by famed filmmaker Werner Herzog.

“You won’t be able to actually see where you are,” Genovese explains. “You’re going to be inside of a factory, and you’re not going to experience what you think you’re going to be experiencing — that is, the kind of awe of being on another planet and experiencing being off Earth. No, you’re going to be working inside of a cubicle.”

That’s a perspective you won’t often hear in the wave of space documentaries flowing through streaming-video outlets, including “Countdown” and “Return to Space” on Netflix, and “Secrets of the Universe” on Curiosity Stream.

But Rudolph Herzog — Werner’s son and the director of “Last Exit: Space,” now playing on Discovery+ — wasn’t that interested in doing a conventional documentary about the final frontier.

“I just like the edgy, quirky stories,” the younger Herzog, who’s built up his own portfolio of film projects, explains in the latest episode of the Fiction Science podcast. “I think everybody knows about Elon Musk, and everybody knows what Jeff Bezos is up to. … I just wanted to show the incredible lengths people will go to, to live this dream of going to space.”

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GeekWire

‘SNL’ comedian is reportedly up for a space ride

Comedian Pete Davidson co-starred with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk last year in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch about a slacker astronaut named Chad, but it sounds as if Davidson could soon go into space for real — courtesy of Musk’s rival space billionaire, Jeff Bezos.

According to the New York Post’s Page Six gossip column, Davidson is close to signing up for a suborbital space trip on the New Shepard rocket ship built by Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture.

“Pete is excited,” according to an unnamed Page Six source said to be familiar with Davidson’s plans. “They haven’t signed a contract yet, but it looks like it’s going to happen. The details are being finalized.”

Blue Origin, which is based in Kent, Wash., launched three crewed suborbital space missions from its West Texas spaceport last year and is reportedly keen to pick up the pace this year. Page Six quoted its source as saying the timing for Davidson’s flight is still up in the air.

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GeekWire

‘Downfall’ recounts 737 MAX mess as a tech tragedy

The missteps traced in “Downfall: The Case Against Boeing” — Netflix’s new documentary about Boeing’s troubled 737 MAX jet — are the stuff of Greek tragedy.

Under the direction of filmmaker Rory Kennedy, the youngest child of Robert F. Kennedy, “Downfall” recounts how the aerospace giant cut corners in a race to compete against Airbus, and pressed mightily to minimize the known problems with a computerized flight control system that was capable of causing the 737 MAX to go into a fatal dive.

The result? Not just one, but two catastrophic crashes — first in Indonesia, in 2018, and only months later in Ethiopia. The combined death toll amounted to 346 people. The jets were grounded for nearly two years while Boeing worked on a fix to the control system.

When the Indonesian crash occurred, the root cause seemed to be shrouded in uncertainty. But subsequent investigations showed that Boeing knew the cause had to do with tweaks in an automated software routine known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS.

In the early stages of those investigations, I struggled to explain what MCAS was supposed to do (keep planes from stalling under extreme conditions) and what it ended up doing (forcing planes into a dive). “Downfall” uses graphics and re-enactments to show how MCAS and other points of failure on the 737 MAX figured in the tragedy.

The film also lays out evidence from emails and other documents showing that when the 737 MAX was undergoing certification for flight, Boeing was desperate to avoid providing pilots with extra training, at extra cost — so desperate that the company hid the MCAS software’s capabilities from pilots, airlines and regulators.

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GeekWire

Blue Origin confirms Star Trek captain’s space trip

It’s official: Star Trek actor William Shatner is due to fly on Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship next week, becoming the oldest person to go into space at the age of 90.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ space venture made the announcement this morning, confirming a report published by the TMZ celebrity news site 10 days earlier.

“I’ve heard about space for a long time now. I’m taking the opportunity to see it for myself. What a miracle,” Shatner said in the news release.

Blue Origin’s vice president of mission and flight operations, Audrey Powers, will also be on board for New Shepard’s launch. That rounds out a crew of four that also includes tech entrepreneurs Chris Boshuizen and Glen de Vries, whose names came to light last week.

Next week’s countdown and launch will be live-streamed via Blue Origin’s website, starting at the T-minus-90-minute mark. Liftoff from Launch Site One in West Texas is currently set for 8:30 a.m. CT (6:30 a.m. PT) Oct. 12.

This will be Blue Origin’s second crewed suborbital spaceflight, following up on the trip that Bezos and three other fliers took in July.

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GeekWire

Late-night TV skit skewers space billionaires

You know that the billionaire space race has entered the nation’s mainstream when it’s skewered by NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”

On tonight’s season premiere, guest host Owen Wilson played the starring role in “Star Trek: Ego Quest” as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who in July took a suborbital space ride on the New Shepard rocket built by his own Blue Origin space venture.

SNL’s writers even went so far as to write Wilson’s brother, fellow actor Luke Wilson, into the script as Mark Bezos (credited in the opening titles as “First Mate Jeff Bezos’ Brother, Whose Name Escapes Me”). Other prime-time players portrayed the Bezos brothers’ companions in what it called a “crew of random weirdos,” including Dutch student Oliver Daemen (“Science Officer Rich Kid From the Netherlands”) and 82-year-old aviation pioneer Wally Funk.

“Their mission: to just sort of fly around space, goofing off, in a ship that looks like a penis,” the narrator intones.

Naturally, Bezos and his crew get into a drag race with Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson, who in real life went on his own suborbital space journey on SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity just nine days before Bezos’ flight. The narrator calls it “A Midlife Crisis of Cosmic Proportions.”

But the race ends up going to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk (played by Mikey Day), who blasts Bezos’ craft with photon torpedoes. “Space is only big enough for one weird white billionaire,” Musk says. “So you could say beating you is my … Prime objective.” (Or should that be “Prime Directive”?)

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GeekWire

TMZ says Star Trek’s William Shatner will go to space

The next crewed suborbital spaceflight planned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture — which could launch as early as next month — is due to carry Star Trek captain William Shatner, according to the TMZ celebrity news site.

If the report based on unnamed sources is true, that would make Shatner the oldest person to fly in space at the age of 90, besting the record set by 82-year-old aviation pioneer Wally Funk during July’s first crewed flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spacecraft.

Shatner played Captain James T. Kirk in the original “Star Trek” series and in a series of movies. That gives him at least one thing in common with Bezos. The world’s richest individual also played a part in a Star Trek production: a cameo as an alien Starfleet officer that lasted several seconds in the movie “Star Trek Beyond.”

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Cosmic Space

Discovery unveils reality TV contest for space trip

More than 20 years after TV executives first floated the idea of doing a “Survivor”-style series with a trip to space as the reward, it looks as if such a show might actually happen as early as next year.

The eight-part series’ working title is “Who Wants to Be an Astronaut?” It’s slated to air on the Discovery TV channel, with bonus content on the Science Channel and the discovery+ streaming service.

Discovery put out the casting call today, and you can sign up to vie for a spot on the show — that is, assuming that you’re a U.S. citizen who’s 18 or older and in good enough shape to endure the rigors of spaceflight. Applicants will have to answer a questionnaire and submit photos and a short video as part of the screening process. If you go on to the next stage, you’ll have to undergo a background check as well as psychological and physical exams.

Contestants will be put through astronaut-style training and a variety of extreme challenges. In the end, expert judges will select one candidate to take a ride on a SpaceX Crew Dragon and spend eight days on the International Space Station as part of an Axiom Space mission.

Houston-based Axiom Space recently sealed the deal with NASA for its first private astronaut mission, known as Ax-1, and Discovery says it expects the reality-TV trip to be part of Ax-2.

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GeekWire

Elon Musk jokes about his work and his quirks

Elon Musk made his mark tonight on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” — not only as the richest host in the late-night skit show’s 46-year run, but also as the first host to acknowledge on the program that he has Asperger Syndrome.

That’s not exactly a surprise: For years, folks have noticed that the billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla has the laser focus and social awkwardness that’s associated with Asperger’s. But Musk fully embraced his Aspieness during tonight’s monologue.

“I’m actually making history tonight as the first person with Asperger’s to host ‘SNL,’ or at least the first to admit it,” he said. “So I won’t make a lot of eye contact with the cast tonight. But already I’m pretty good at running human in emulation mode.”

It’s true that Musk probably won’t make “SNL’s” greatest-hits clip show for the roles he played in the comedy skits — including an Icelandic TV producer, a Generation Z doctor, an electric-horse-riding cowboy and Wario (the “misunderstood” Mario Bros. video-game character). But he won the day with his self-deprecating humor.

The spaciest (and spiciest) moment came when Musk played himself, dealing with a Mars crisis involving Chad, the clueless slacker who’s a recurring character played by Pete Davidson. (Watch the clip all the way to the end — if you dare.)

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Cosmic Space

‘Space Hero’ aims for reality TV’s final frontier

Will “Space Hero” go where no reality TV show has gone before?

Twenty years after “Destination: Mir” promised to put the winning contestant of a broadcast TV competition into orbit, “Space Hero” aims to take advantage of new commercial spaceflight opportunities to follow through on that promise at last.

But cautionary tales abound.

“Destination: Mir,” created by “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett for NBC, fizzled out along with Russia’s Mir space station not long after the project was unveiled in 2000. A similar project, aimed at putting boy-band singer Lance Bass on the International Space Station, faded away in 2002 when producers couldn’t come up with the money.

The list goes on — highlighted by Mars One’s unsuccessful bid to get a Red Planet TV project off the ground, Burnett’s fruitless effort to create an NBC series focusing on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, soprano superstar Sarah Brightman’s abortive attempt to fly to the space station in 2015 and this year’s failure to launch for Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa’s space-based matchmaking show.

One British TV series, “Space Cadets,” told contestants that they were being trained for a space shot but actually set them up for one of the most elaborate hoaxes in television history.

This time will be different, said veteran entertainment industry executive Marty Pompadur, the chairman of Space Hero LLC.

“Space Hero is the new frontier for the entertainment sector, offering the first-ever truly off-planet experience,” Pompadur said today in a news release. “We aim to reinvent the reality TV category by creating a multi-channel experience that offers the biggest prize ever, to the biggest audience possible. Space Hero is about opening space up to everyone — not only to astronauts and billionaires.”

The show would trace the training of contestants for a spot on a spacecraft heading to the space station as early as 2023. Axiom Space, a commercial venture that has already struck a deal with NASA and SpaceX for a privately funded space trip, would be in charge of training and mission management. A global audience would cast votes to pick the winner, and there’d be live coverage of the 10-day space stay.

Space Hero says it’s currently in discussions with NASA for a potential partnership that would include educational initiatives. A countdown clock on the company’s webpage is ticking down to April 12, 2021, which marks the scheduled kickoff for the application process as well as the 60th anniversary of the world’s first human spaceflight.

The venture’s founding partners are Thomas Reemer, who has produced unscripted video programming in Germany; and Deborah Sass, whose career has focused on entertainment and lifestyle branding.

“When Thomas and I started this venture, we were very clear that there was nothing like it on the planet,” Sass said. “Today we have started our mission to find our distribution partner and are ready to take it to the next stage and get the world excited about Space Hero.”

The project is being produced by Propagate Content, a company founded by Ben Silverman and Howard T. Owens. Those executives have a storied pedigree in the entertainment industry, touching on shows ranging from “The Office” to an upcoming Eurovision spin-off series called “The American Song Contest.”

Will “Space Hero” succeed where past space TV projects failed? Those past efforts went by the wayside primarily because of a lack of funding. Potential distributors and sponsors have traditionally been chary about backing entertainment projects that could turn into a scrub — or, far worse, a Challenger-style tragedy.

Spaceflight doesn’t come cheap: The projected ticket price for flying commercially to the space station on a SpaceX Dragon or a Boeing Starliner is thought to be in the range of $50 million to $60 million, and NASA has said it’d charge roughly $35,000 a day on top of that cost for a space station stay.

But if projects that are already in the pipeline for space station stardom — such as Estee Lauder’s skin care ad campaign or the granddaddy of them all, Tom Cruise’s zero-G movie — turn into palpable, profitable hits, then it just might be time to put “Space Hero” on your appointment calendar for must-see space TV.

Update for 5 p.m. PT Sept. 17: I asked Hannah Walsh, who is handling public affairs for Space Hero, about the venture’s funding. Here’s her emailed reply:

“Space Hero is currently in the second stage of fundraising, which is exactly where they should be in the plan, and [they] are very comfortable with where they are in the process. Contracts have been signed with all partners and the next step is to evaluate the distribution offers and choose the relationship that best suits the project. Potential investors can find out more by contacting investment firm Gerald Edelman.”