Your Personal Space Journey: Blue Origin Advancing Ever Closer to Commercial Space Flight

Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin, inspects New Shepard's West Texas launch facility before the rocket's maiden voyage. Photo credit: Blue Origin
Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin, inspects New Shepard’s West Texas launch facility before the rocket’s maiden voyage. Photo credit: Blue Origin

When New Horizons zipped by Pluto the other day, I read a comment somewhere that the oldest living person on Earth had been born before Orville and Wilbur Wright completed their first flight … and now we’ve sent a spacecraft to the most distant planet in our solar system, and beyond. (Oh, go on, Neil deGrasse Tyson, you can say Pluto isn’t a planet, but I say it is! So there!) How far we have come, so quickly!

Space has probably fascinated humans for as long as we’ve had the mental capacity to wonder what might be out there. (For me, that fascination is so great it inspired my first YA sci-fi, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse.) How can we not be curious? We are explorers, we are dreamers. Our imaginations are vast, and space is, after all, the final frontier.

And now, whereas a little more than one hundred years ago the idea of flying at all was still just a dream, commercial space flight — commercial space flight, people! –is, quite possibly, just a few years away from becoming a reality.

Blue Origin, a privately funded aerospace manufacturer set up by Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos, is one of the companies working on this dream. When I heard that the company recently began taking “RSVPs” for its future flights, I had to find out more. (Note: despite reports to the contrary, they’re not actually taking RSVPs. See below.)

My thanks to Jessica Pieczonka, Blue Origin — Communications, for answering my questions!

​Jeff Bezos tests communication systems before the first flight of the New Shepard space vehicle. Photo credit: Blue Origin
​Jeff Bezos tests communication systems before the first flight of the New Shepard space vehicle. Photo credit: Blue Origin

Q: When did you begin accepting RSVPs?

A: Blue Origin offers the adventure of a lifetime with a real rocket ride. On April 29, we completed the first flight of our New Shepard space system, and we’re looking forward to flying frequently and demonstrating the vehicle’s capabilities during our test program. At its completion, we’ll be ready for your flight. If you’re interested in being a future flyer with us and gaining early access to pricing information and ticket sales, be sure to fill out our “Start Your Journey” form. You’ll be the first to know when we’re open for reservations.

Q: I know the company is working on both suborbital and orbital space flight. Can you tell me a little about what each of those terms means?

A: Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft flies a suborbital arc to space then returns directly to the launch site, rather than going on to orbit around the Earth. A suborbital flight crosses over the boundary of space at an altitude of 100 km. At these altitudes, you experience microgravity and can see the dark of space and the curvature of the Earth. Creative investigators will use the flexible access to this space environment to conduct investigations into microgravity sciences, to test engineering phenomenon in a space environment, or to observe the universe around us.

The New Shepard space vehicle blasts off on its first developmental test flight over Blue Origin's West Texas Launch Site. The crew capsule reached apogee at 307,000 feet before beginning its descent back to Earth. Photo credit: Blue Origin
The New Shepard space vehicle blasts off on its first developmental test flight over Blue Origin’s West Texas Launch Site. The crew capsule reached apogee at 307,000 feet before beginning its descent back to Earth. Photo credit: Blue Origin

Q: When will flights begin (what year, month, approximately)?

A: We won’t be publishing a calendar for our test flight program. If you happen to be out in West Texas, though, you may see us climbing to space. Once we start flying astronauts, we will have a place for friends and families to come be part of the launch experience.

Q: Any timeline on orbital flights?

A: Orbital human spaceflights are definitely a part of our long-term plan. The work we are focused on right now with suborbital flights is part of the development path for future vehicles and missions.

Q: How long will each flight (talking again about the suborbital flights) last?

A: The complete flight is approximately 11 minutes of which you will be able to experience the freedom of weightlessness for about 4 minutes.

Q: How many people will be on each flight?

A: Capable of accommodating a solo experience or the ultimate trip for friends and family, Blue Origin’s capsule is made to carry up to six passengers.


Video credit: Blue Origin (If video doesn’t load, see this link.)

Q: Will a person be strapped in the whole time, or will they be able to move freely around the cabin?

A: On Blue Origin’s real rocket ride, you’ll experience the same sights, sounds and sensations as the great early space pioneers. You’re going to lift off from the pad and travel three times the speed of sound. You’ll feel the freedom of weightlessness, and cross over the internationally recognized boundary of space at 100km. There’s enough room in our spacecraft to turn somersaults, and the views out the largest windows in spaceflight history will be awe inspiring. Your flight ends with a classic parachute landing that provides a gentle return home, where you will return as an astronaut.

Q: How much does it cost?

A: No pricing information being released at this time.

Q: From where will they launch?

A: Our suborbital launch site in West Texas is our principal base of New Shepard flights. We may expand to additional locations in the future as we continue to grow and move into orbital flights.


Video credit: Blue Origin (If video doesn’t load, see this link.)

Q: Will people need special training before the flight? 

A: We’re designing a full training program in West Texas where astronauts will spend a few days preparing for their flights. They won’t need to go through months of training, though — we’ve designed the experience to be accessible to a wide range of explorers.

Q: Is there a screening process, to determine who can and can’t go?

A: Our ultimate goal is to open up spaceflight to as many people as can safely experience it, and Blue Origin’s spacecraft is designed to be a less demanding environment than traditional government flights. We will work with astronauts and have them talk with their physicians about their own limits in experiencing this adventure of a lifetime. We’re also bound by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, which currently requires astronauts to be over the age of 18.

After a clean separation from the propulsion module, the New Shepard crew capsule descends to a gentle landing in the west Texas desert. Photo credit: Blue Origin
After a clean separation from the propulsion module, the New Shepard crew capsule descends to a gentle landing in the west Texas desert. Photo credit: Blue Origin

Q: What are the risks involved?

A: We’ve got an incredible team of world-class experts, including two former NASA astronauts, who have been working methodically on every detail of our spacecraft. From the beginning, our approach has been best described by our company motto — Gradatim Ferociter or “Step by step, ferociously.”

We recently completed the first flight of our New Shepard space system, and we’re looking forward to flying often as part of our test program. During this test program, we’ll test, learn, refine, and test again to demonstrate the vehicle’s capabilities and reliability. As an example, a key mission assurance feature that we’re proud to have is a full envelope escape system, which provides our future astronauts with a further means of protection during their ride to space.

Q: Will the flights have crews? Pilot and flight attendants?

A: We’ve designed a system that is fully autonomous and doesn’t require on-board pilots. Each flight is managed by our experienced Mission Control team.

For more information, see the Blue Origin website, follow them on Twitter and check out their videos on YouTube.

The New Shepard crew capsule separates from the propulsion module and continues its ascent to 307,000 feet before returning to Earth for a classic landing under parachutes. Photo credit: Blue Origin
The New Shepard crew capsule separates from the propulsion module and continues its ascent to 307,000 feet before returning to Earth for a classic landing under parachutes. Photo credit: Blue Origin

Also published on my Huffington Post blog.


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November: FoYoDreaMo

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month) has been around long enough now that many of you have probably heard about it. It’s a month in which writers are challenged to write 50,000 words in 30 days – a hefty feat. While accomplishing the 50K is one goal, it’s not the only goal. For many, the month is simply a kick-start to writing, or a motivation to get back into a novel one’s had on the shelf. The idea is to write, write, write, without editing, just to get the creative juices going, to build momentum on one’s dream, to begin.

But what if you’re not a writer?

I propose a new challenge: FoYoDreaMo, or Follow Your Dreams Month. What is something you’ve been wanting to do with your life? What is a goal you have, or even just something you’ve been thinking you might like to try? Thirty days, do you have it in you?

If you do, then I declare November to be your month. Start tomorrow, November 1. For thirty days, follow your dream. What do you have to lose?

Report back! See you in thirty days!

Settling into the crankiness / Pam’s tinnitus coping strategy

Many years ago, I developed tinnitus, a constant ringing in my ears. My case is far milder than many, but it was a disturbing change. At its onset, I panicked; the noise did not just distract me but rather scared me, made me anxious. I couldn’t sleep (and learned that I am immune to at least one sleeping pill), and was on edge for days.

Finally, I figured out how to cope with it. I learned that if I focused on the ringing, I would become more anxious and notice it more. The sound would be all-consuming. However, if I relaxed into it, reminded myself that it wasn’t harming me, focused on other, soft sounds around me that I could still hear, as a way of proving to myself that I could still hear quieter noises, I was able to relax. Fighting the noise made it worse. Accepting it as a part of life made it more or less, most of the time, go away. Now I often forget about it completely until I listen to hear if it’s still there. (It is.)

I’ve taken what I learned about coping with tinnitus and I try to apply it to other irritating situations. I’m not always completely successful, but it does help. And often the situations I’m dealing with are temporary, unlike the tinnitus – which means when they’re gone, they’re really gone. I’ve learned that if I can just settle into the irritation, not fight it but accept it as a part of life, and focus on other things, then the irritant goes away much more quickly.

The last few days I’ve been extremely cranky. I know why I’m cranky and knowing why I’m cranky doesn’t help. I’ve laid … lain … uh, I’ve been awake in the middle of the night, staring at the back of my eyelids for hours on end the last few nights, thinking about the things making me cranky, and it has gotten me nowhere but crankier.

So now, I’m going to try my tinnitus coping method. Relax into the crankiness. Accept it as a normal part of life. Sometimes I’m blissfully happy and sometimes I’m cranky, and this too shall pass. Focus on other things and not think about the things that are irritating me. These things shall pass. It’s okay to be cranky sometimes. This too shall pass.

Favorite things for the week * Feb 21

I cannot believe how fast time is flying. The year is already almost 1/6 over?? How did that happen?? Makes me have to stop to wonder if I’m utilizing every moment. Time is too precious to waste!

1. Ben’s Journey

This video of this man’s journey is beautiful and inspirational. (I’m sure the music has something to do with it – one of my favorite songs!) This will move you – emotionally, and also perhaps physically!

Find out more at Ben’s blog.

2. Then-and-now pictures

What a fabulous project!! Photographer Irina Werning invited people to re-enact old photos of themselves. The results (one example below) are charming, funny, wonderful. (Link forwarded to me by @licorous.)

3. Bicycle Rush Hour in the Netherlands

I love this. Think of your own rush hour traffic. Then watch this rush hour. Doesn’t this just make you feel more calm? This looks like a rush hour utopia! Of course, it would be easier to convince people to commute this way in places where it doesn’t rain all the time. 🙂

4. Peeps

Is it Peeps time again already? Well, not quite, but according to stores that is. And that means the Peeps stories are starting their yearly journey to the surface of our collective psyche.

A friend on Twitter, @legalnomads, tweeted this insanely comprehensive look at Peeps on the Internet. As the article’s author says, there are 155 links in the post. As far as I can tell, however, the old classic Bunny Survival Test page isn’t among them. Perhaps because they aren’t technically Peeps but rather Bunny Peeps? Does that matter to Peep purists? At any rate, if you’re looking for hours of Peeps amusement, that site is your starting point. Seems like a good way to spend a Monday!

Starry Night done in Peeps, by CakeSpy

5. Breaking up traffic jams

A Seattle guy’s very zen approach to traffic jams turns out to actually have the effect of breaking up traffic jams. Interesting! (Note: When I watched this, it took a while to load. Practice your zen while waiting for the video!)

6. My book!

I know, you’ve read the excerpt by now! As many of you know, I’m anguishing over the cover, and continuing to maneuver the maze of independent authorship. It’s overwhelming but I’m getting there! Continued thanks to everyone for your amazing and never-ending support. It means so much! Thank you!!

Happy President’s Day and have a great week everyone!

Photo shoot results

Since I’m on the cusp of getting my book out, I realized I could no longer put off the dreaded author photo shoot. Last weekend, my friend Denise’s daughter Haley generously did a photo shoot for me. She took nearly 300 pics, and I found just one I liked (after a wee bit of photoshopping!). Here it is ………. with great thanks to Haley, whose information I’ll have up as soon as she gets it to me. One step closer to publication! Woo!

Official Pam Stucky Author Photo!