Jeff Bezos is trusting Blue Origin’s new rocket with his life. It’s flown 15 times, but he’ll have no pilot and possibly no spacesuit.

Jeff Bezos is seen speaking beside a photo of Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket lifting off.
Jeff Bezos (left) is set to launch aboard the New Shepard rocket (right) on July 20.

Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, and two unnamed people – at least one of whom is a multimillionaire – are about to place their lives in the hands of Blue Origin’s rocket engineers.

Bezos, who founded the company in 2000, announced on Monday that he and his brother would be the first passengers on its New Shepherd rocket, along with the highest bidder for the third seat. The as yet unnamed winner of that auction bid $28 million on Saturday to go on the trip. (The money will go to Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future.) A fourth person will join them as well.

The group will strap into a capsule on the top of the five-story rocket as early as July 20.

“Bezos is a risk-taker,” John Logsdon, the founder of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute and a former member of the NASA Advisory Council, told Insider. “He certainly understands that there are risks involved, and probably has a good handle on how risky it is.”

For the rest of us – who don’t have access to Blue Origin’s rocket design or risk calculations – it’s difficult to say just how much risk Bezos is taking. The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. But a few key factors offer clues.

New Shepard has flown successfully before – 15 times – but never with humans onboard. The rocket has a good test-flight record, and it features an emergency system that can jettison the passenger capsule away from a failing rocket. Plus, the whole trip is only 11 minutes long.

At the same time, however, Bezos will fly with no pilot, and probably no spacesuit. And no matter how safe New Shepard is, spaceflight is always risky. About 1% of US human spaceflights have resulted in a fatal accident, according to an analysis published earlier this year.

“That’s pretty high. It’s about 10,000 times more dangerous than flying on a commercial airliner,” George Nield, a co-author of that report, told Insider. Nield formerly served as the Federal Aviation Administration’s associate administrator and led its Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

“In order to learn how to do this safer, more reliably, and more cost effectively, many people believe we need to keep gaining experience by having more and more of these flights,” he added. “[Bezos] obviously has made the decision that having millions of people living and working in space is something that he strongly believes in, and he wants to do his part to help make that happen in some small way.”

Skimming the very edge of space lowers the risk

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Jeff Bezos inside a New Shepard Crew Capsule mockup at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 5, 2017.

If all goes according to plan on the day of Bezos’ flight, here’s what it’ll look like: The New Shepard rocket will fire its engines, spewing flame and smoke across the plains of West Texas. As it screams through the atmosphere, the force of the climb and the pull of Earth’s gravity – which will feel three times stronger than normal – will pin the Bezos brothers and their guests into their seats.

After three minutes, the rocket should separate from the capsule and fall back to Earth. The passengers will feel weightless as they clear the boundary of space.

The view from space on New Shepard's 15th flight, April 14, 2021.
The view from space on New Shepard’s 15th flight, April 14, 2021.

Bezos and his companions will have just three minutes in space. During that time, they can unbuckle and float around the cabin, drifting from one window to another to savor the views of Earth on one side of the spaceship and the blackness of space on the other.

As gravity takes hold again and the spaceship begins to fall back to Earth, Bezos and his co-passengers will strap in for a high-speed plunge. They will likely feel a significant jerk as three parachutes balloon into the air to brake the spaceship’s fall.

The New Shepard crew capsule parachutes to a landing at Blue Origin's Launch Site One in Texas on January 14.
The New Shepard crew capsule parachutes to a landing at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in Texas, January 14, 2021.

The parachutes should carry the capsule to a gentle landing in the Texas desert, where a recovery crew will be waiting.

This type of flight is referred to as suborbital, since the capsule won’t enter orbit around Earth. Blue Origin designed and built New Shepard specifically to carry high-paying customers to the edge of space. The rocket is too small, and its engines don’t have enough thrust, to push itself into orbit.

But keeping the flight short and suborbital comes with pluses: There’s less chance that something will go wrong, and the vehicle is easier to control because its engines are smaller and the rocket is traveling slower than would be needed to reach orbit.

If Bezos’ flight goes well, the new launch system could look more attractive to future space tourists.

New Shepard is thoroughly tested and has an emergency-escape system

Blue Origin's reusable New Shepard suborbital rocket launches toward space in 2016.
Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard suborbital rocket launches toward space in 2016.

The most nail-biting parts of this spaceflight will probably be when the engines burn for liftoff, when the rocket separates from the capsule, and when the parachutes deploy.

“You have a high-performance piece of machinery in the rocket engine that could break, come apart, do bad things,” Logsdon said.

New Shepard has executed all these maneuvers many times before – just not with people on board. It’s flown 15 times since 2015, with three successful tests of its emergency-escape system, which would jettison the capsule away from a failing rocket.

If a parachute fails to deploy, the capsule is designed to give more thrust to its downward-facing engines to help it land safely. If two chutes fail, a crushable “bumper” section on the bottom of the capsule should absorb the impact of landing.

“The capsule is the most highly redundant and safe spaceflight system, we think, that has ever been designed or flown,” Gary Lai, senior director of New Shepard’s design, said in a Blue Origin video about safety, posted online in April. “In most cases, you have a backup to the backup system.”

Logsdon described the New Shepard testing process as “very thorough” and “slow-paced.” He pointed out that the Space Shuttle’s very first flight had humans on board.

“Compared to the Space Shuttle Program, this is a far less risky undertaking,” Logsdon said.

Flying without spacesuits could add risk, but it may be safer if someone vomits

Ever since the Challenger disaster in 1986 – when the Space Shuttle broke apart during launch, killing all seven crew members – all NASA astronauts have worn pressurized spacesuits for launch and landing.

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A sneak peek at the final design of Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule for suborbital space tourists.

Spacesuits would not have saved those aboard Challenger, but they could save lives if a space capsule experiences a cabin leak yet remains intact.

Blue Origin’s website, however, indicates that New Shepard passengers will wear only a jumpsuit – not a pressurized spacesuit and helmet. According to CNN, there are oxygen masks in the capsule, much like on an airplane, in case the cabin becomes depressurized. The company hasn’t specified what Bezos or his companions will wear, however.

Both Nield and Logsdon said the chance of a cabin leak is very small. So the decision to wear a spacesuit or not depends mostly on the design of the capsule. If it has especially thick skin and strong windows, and if its systems can accommodate hiccups and technical errors without endangering the passengers, then flying without a spacesuit could be safe.

When it comes to flying tourists, it may even be better to skip the spacesuit, since first-time fliers often throw up during launch or landing.

“Especially if you are not a trained and experienced astronaut, wearing a spacesuit could be riskier if you got sick,” Nield said.

If you weren’t sufficiently trained to operate the spacesuit, you could choke on your own vomit.

A fully automated flight with no pilots isn’t necessarily a safety issue

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An interior view of Blue Origin’s Crew Capsule mockup at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 5, 2017.

New Shepard conducts its flights autonomously.

“Its design does not allow anybody to do much flying,” Logsdon said.

That’s not necessarily more risky than a rocket that requires a pilot, as long as the passengers are properly trained on what to do in an emergency.

Still, this fully automated launch system is relatively new, and lots of things can go wrong during early flights. Rocket failures can often be traced back to small errors across all kinds of hardware and software. It is rocket science, after all.

“Until we get lots of experience, like we’ve had with millions of airplane flights over the years, then there’s going to be some learning involved. And we’re going to get some surprises along the way. And there’s going to be some more accidents or incidents in future years,” Nield said. “With cars and boats and planes and trains, people die every year. And spaceflight is not going to be any different when it comes to that.”

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Unconfirmed report suggests Branson may try to beat Bezos into space – and Virgin Galactic didn’t deny it

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Jeff Bezos (left) and Richard Branson (right) may be in a very tight space race.

The billionaire space race appears to be in full swing, and it’s getting close. Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson may both have the edge of space in their sights next month.

Bezos announced on Monday that he plans to fly into space aboard the New Shepard rocket developed by Blue Origin, the aerospace company he founded in 2000. The launch is set for July 20.

The following day, a report from Douglas Messier, who runs the longtime space blog Parabolic Arc, indicated that Virgin Galactic may be racing to launch its own founder, Branson, before Bezos. A “source who requested anonymity” told Messier that the company plans to fly Branson on a test flight of its SpaceShipTwo rocket plane over the July 4 weekend. That would poise Branson to beat Bezos to space by a narrow two weeks.

According to Messier’s source, the company began making those plans in response to Blue Origin setting the date for its first crewed flight. Blue Origin made that announcement on May 5 – long before Bezos shared that he would be on board.

Insider was not able to independently confirm Messier’s report. But in a statement to Insider, a spokesperson for Virgin Galactic did not deny the report’s claims.

“At this time, we have not determined the date of our next flight,” the spokesperson said.

Branson’s flight is “expected in the summer months,” the spokesperson added, as is a separate test flight with four “mission specialists” – employees playing the role of future passengers.

Virgin Galactic has previously stated that the mission specialists would fly before Branson. But as of Wednesday, the spokesperson did not respond to a question about which of the two flights would come first.

“One could easily imagine just sort of swapping the flights, or having Richard Branson fly in one of those four seats, just as a test subject, if you will,” George Nield, a former associate administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, where he led its Office of Commercial Space Transportation, told Insider.

Branson has “been in some pretty risky things in his career,” Nield added. “And he obviously believes in this program. If he’s comfortable that everything’s good and is willing to go himself, then more power to him.”

“It’s kind of amusing, these billionaires entertaining themselves by being on the first flights of their vehicles,” John Logsdon, the founder of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute and a former member of the NASA Advisory Council, told Insider. “Starship is supposed to do an orbital test, too. Is Elon [Musk] going to take the bait and fly on that?”

Launching Branson by July 4 is ‘very doable’

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A SpaceShipTwo space plane returns to Earth after a supersonic flight.

Virgin Galactic could easily get through the paperwork to fly Branson by July 4, according to Nield.

“To me, it looks absolutely very doable,” he said, though he emphasized that he is not privy to communications between Virgin Galactic and the FAA, which licenses commercial rocket launches.

Virgin Galactic might have to modify its license with the FAA in order to fly Branson. The modification would allow the company to fly “participants” as well as crew members (in this case, pilots and mission specialists). But Nield says that modification would be simple and quick, as long as the data from the last flight doesn’t reveal any major issues.

“The change in the license is just to say: ‘delete paragraph five,'” Nield said. “So it’s not a big deal.”

Branson could even get a new role as a crew member – acting as a mission specialist, for example. Then Virgin Galactic may not have to modify its license at all in order to fly him.

“In my opinion, there is nothing preventing Richard Branson from also flying as a member of the flight crew,” Nield said. “He is an employee of the company, and they can assign him whatever duties they want to. That’s not something the FAA gets involved in. That’s up to the company.”

When Insider asked about the report, an FAA spokesperson declined to comment on whether Virgin Galactic was pursuing a launch next month. Instead, the agency pointed out the “participant” license modification.

It’s not clear how much Virgin Galactic would have to change or speed up its original plans in order to get Branson to space before Bezos.

“If you hurry there’s always the possibility of cutting corners, but the people that are managing the flight have a pretty high incentive not to kill their boss,” Logsdon said.

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Jeff Bezos will spend just 3 minutes in space, without a pilot. His launch will be unlike any prior US spaceflight.

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Jeff Bezos (left) is set to launch aboard the New Shepard rocket (right) on July 20.

Jeff Bezos is preparing to rocket into space on July 20, but he won’t be there for very long. With Earth shining outside the windows, Bezos will float around the cabin of his company’s New Shepard spaceship for just three minutes before he has to strap into his seat again and fall back to the ground.

Blue Origin, the rocket company that Bezos founded in 2000, plans to use this launch system to carry tourists up to the edge of space. New Shepard’s goal is simple: give paying customers the ride of their lives. Passengers will get a few minutes of stunning views out of the largest windows of any spaceship in the world.

This is the first launch system designed for that purpose, and Bezos will be among the first people to fly on it, alongside his brother Mark and the highest bidder for the third seat. Combined, these factors make this flight unlike any other before it.

“Ever since I was five years old, I’ve dreamed of traveling to space,” Bezos said in a Monday Instagram post announcing his plans to rocket into space.

“I want to go on this flight because it’s a thing I wanted to do all my life. It’s an adventure – it’s a big deal for me,” he added in an accompanying video.

In this dream-realizing flight of Bezos’s, there will be no pilot, since the process is automated – and perhaps not even spacesuits either. Here’s what to expect.

3 minutes of weightlessness

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Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard suborbital rocket launches toward space in 2016.

On launch day, Bezos, his brother, and a to-be-determined multimillionaire will climb into the round, spacious cabin of the New Shepard and strap in. If all goes according to plan, the rocket will then fire its engines, spewing flame and smoke across the plains of West Texas, in order to heave itself off the launchpad and into the skies.

As New Shepard screams through the atmosphere, the force of its climb and the pull of Earth’s gravity will pin the Bezos brothers and their guest into their reclining seats.

After just three minutes, they will suddenly feel weightless. They’ll have another three minutes to unbuckle and float around the cabin, drifting from one window to another. Those windows, which make up one-third of the capsule’s surface, will show the passengers the curve of Earth on one side of the spaceship and the blackness of space on the other.

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The view from space on New Shepard’s 15th flight, April 14, 2021.

Astronauts have a term for the feeling of awe this view of Earth can inspire: “the Overview Effect.”

“When we look down at the Earth from space, we see this amazing, indescribably beautiful planet. It looks like a living, breathing organism. But it also, at the same time, looks extremely fragile,” Ron Garan, an astronaut who spent 177 days in space, explained in a 2013 documentary film titled “Overview.”

He added: “Anybody else who’s ever gone to space says the same thing because it really is striking and it’s really sobering to see this paper-thin layer and to realize that that little paper-thin layer is all that protects every living thing on Earth from death, basically.”

Briefly, for just a minute or two, the New Shepard spaceship should clear the Kármán line – an imaginary boundary 62 miles (100 kilometers) above sea level, where space begins.

Then as gravity takes hold again and the spaceship begins to fall back to Earth, Bezos and his co-passengers will strap in for a high-speed plunge through the atmosphere. Then the capsule should deploy three parachutes – likely giving the passengers a significant jerk as the chutes balloon into the air to brake the spaceship’s fall.

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The New Shepard crew capsule parachutes to a landing at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in Texas, January 14, 2021.

After that, the parachutes should carry the capsule to a gentle landing in the Texas desert, where a recovery crew will be waiting to retrieve the Bezoses and their companion.

Meanwhile, the rocket booster will fall back to Earth separately, fire its engines to slow itself to about 5 mph, and self-land on a concrete pad, to be restored and fly again another day.

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The New Shepard booster lands after the vehicle’s fifth flight, May 2, 2019.

The whole journey will last about 11 minutes. That’s because New Shepard is a suborbital rocket. It’s too small, and its engines don’t have enough thrust, to push itself into orbit. So any tourists riding it, including Bezos, will just get to peek above the edge of space.

Another rocket company, Virgin Galactic, has flown people on similar suborbital flights before. But their missions require pilots to land their plane-like vehicle. For New Shepard, the entire flight is automated, so there will be no pilots or professional astronauts on board.

No spacesuits, either?

blue origin new shepard test flight mannequin skywalker
A dummy called Mannequin Skywalker flies onboard the New Shepard in a Blue Origin flight suit, January 14, 2021.

Blue Origin hasn’t specified whether Bezos or his companions will wear a pressurized spacesuit and helmet during their flight. But the company’s website indicates that New Shepard passengers will wear only a jumpsuit.

NASA astronauts and their international counterparts all wear pressurized spacesuits when they launch or land. NASA started requiring this after the Challenger disaster in 1986, when the Space Shuttle broke apart during launch, killing all seven crew members.

Spacesuits probably would not have saved the people aboard Challenger, but they could save lives if a space capsule happens to experience a cabin leak yet remain intact.

Blue Origin did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the upcoming flight. The New Shepard has flown successfully 15 times and has twice tested an emergency-escape system that should jettison the capsule and its passengers away from a failing rocket.

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SpaceX has safely landed 4 astronauts in the ocean for NASA, completing the US’s longest human spaceflight

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NASA’s Crew-1 mission crew members in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft (left to right): NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins, as well as JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

SpaceX just returned its first full astronaut crew to Earth, completing the longest human spaceflight any US vehicle has ever flown.

The astronauts of the Crew-2 mission – Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins of NASA, and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) – felt the pull of Earth’s gravity for the first time in six months as their Crew Dragon spaceship tore through the atmosphere early Sunday. The spaceship, which they’ve named Resilience, protected them as its speed superheated the air around it to a 3,500-degree-Fahrenheit plasma.

A few miles above the ocean, four parachutes ballooned from the gumdrop-shaped capsule, jerking it into a slower fall. They gently lowered Resilience to a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico at 2:57 a.m. ET. The waves were calm and the weather was clear.

This was NASA’s first nighttime splashdown since 1968. Thermal cameras on a nearby recovery ship and a NASA plane captured video, below, of the spaceship and its parachutes falling into the ocean.

“On behalf of NASA and the SpaceX teams, we welcome you back to planet Earth. Thanks for flying SpaceX. For those of you enrolled in our frequent flyer program, you have earned 68 million miles on this voyage,” a mission controller quipped to the Crew-1 astronauts as they splashed down.

“We’ll take those miles. Are they transferable?” Hopkins responded.

The astronauts’ return to Earth concludes SpaceX’s first routine crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS). That’s where Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi have been living and working since they launched in November.

SpaceX first proved it could launch and land humans last year when it rocketed NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS for a two-month test flight. Now it has shown that it can carry out full-length crew rotations.

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There were 11 humans aboard the International Space Station last week.

NASA has contracted five more round-trip flights from SpaceX. The next one, Crew-2, already delivered four more astronauts to the ISS last weekend. Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi greeted their Dragon-flying colleagues with smiles and hugs. The football-field-sized orbiting laboratory was crowded with 11 people during the week that the two missions overlapped.

But on Saturday evening, the Crew-1 astronauts said goodbye and climbed back into the Crew Dragon Resilience.

The capsule undocked from its ISS port and fell into orbit around Earth, slowly lining up with a path to its splashdown site over the next 6.5 hours.

“This marks many important milestones, but it really is important for getting a regular cadence of crew to the station and back,” Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s acting administrator, said after the Crew-2 launch.

“What we do on ISS is important not only for the research and technology development that we do for here on Earth but also to prepare for what we’re going to do in the future,” he added. “Our ultimate goal is sending astronauts to Mars.”

Having fun and making history 250 miles above Earth

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Left to right: Mike Hopkins, Soichi Noguchi, Shannon Walker, and Victor Glover gather around a laptop computer to join a video conference on February 7, 2021.

Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi conducted hundreds of science and technology experiments during their time in orbit. They did a few spacewalks. They also relocated the Crew Dragon from one ISS docking port to another – a first for the spacecraft.

The crew celebrated Glover’s 45th birthday on Friday, their last full day on the ISS. The party featured cake, musical instruments, and balloons.

“Gratitude, wonder, connection. I’m full of and motivated by these feelings on my birthday, as my first mission to space comes to an end,” Glover, who is the mission pilot, tweeted. “This orbiting laboratory is a true testament to what we can accomplish when we work together as a team. Crew-1 is ready for our ride home!”

Glover was a rookie at the beginning of this mission, but Noguchi is a spaceflight veteran. He’s spent more than a year of his life in space and has flown on three different spacecraft. He said after the launch that Crew Dragon was the best.

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Soichi Noguchi poses with his SpaceX Crew Dragon spacesuit inside the International Space Station.

Hopkins, the mission commander, has had to sleep inside the spaceship for the last five months since the ISS didn’t have enough beds. That gave him the only room with a window 250 miles above Earth. The views were “absolutely stunning,” he told reporters last week.

As their departure date approached, the astronauts wondered what the Crew Dragon had in store for them.

“We don’t know quite what to expect landing on the water under parachutes like this,” Walker said. “And it’s just exciting that we get to go home and see our friends and family.”

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The Crew Dragon Endeavour parachutes into the Gulf of Mexico with Demo-2 astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley onboard, August 2, 2020.

Their return trip was originally scheduled for Wednesday, then for Saturday morning, but NASA rescheduled twice after forecasts predicted high winds in the splashdown zones.

Akihiko Hoshide, a JAXA astronaut on Crew-2, has taken over the role of ISS commander. He spoke to the Crew-1 astronauts over the radio as their spaceship backed away from the station: “Resilence departed. Have a safe trip back home and a soft landing.”

“Thanks for your hospitality,” Hopkins responded. “Sorry, we stayed a little bit long. And we’ll see you back on Earth.”

‘A new era of space exploration’

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Elon Musk celebrates after SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft launch their first astronauts on the Demo-2 mission, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, May 30, 2020.

NASA shares its Mars ambitions with Elon Musk, the founder, CEO, and chief engineer of SpaceX. So far, SpaceX seems to be the agency’s first-choice commercial partner in expanding human spaceflight.

NASA recently chose the company’s Starship mega-spaceship to land astronauts on the moon for the first time since 1972. However, work has been temporarily halted after competing firms Dynetics and Blue Origin filed complaints.

“The future’s looking good,” Musk said in a press conference after the Crew-2 launch. “I think we’re at the dawn of a new era of space exploration.”

That era begins in low-Earth orbit, with the six Crew Dragon missions NASA has purchased. So far, this is the only commercial spaceship ever to fly humans – and it’s done so for three crews.

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The Crew Dragon Endeavour approaches the International Space Station with the Crew-2 astronauts on board, April 24, 2021.

Those missions restored NASA’s ability to launch astronauts from the US for the first time since the last Space Shuttle flew in 2011. The Crew Dragon also gives other space agencies, like JAXA, an alternative to the Russian Soyuz rockets that have dominated human spaceflight for the last decade.

This was what NASA wanted from its Commercial Crew Program, which funded SpaceX to build Crew Dragon and prepare its Falcon 9 rockets for crewed launches. NASA did the same for Boeing’s Starliner spaceship, but that vehicle has to re-do an uncrewed mission to the ISS before it can fly humans.

To the moon and Mars

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Illustration of SpaceX Starship human lander design that will carry NASA astronauts to the Moon’s surface during the Artemis mission.

Through the partnerships fostered in the Commercial Crew Program – and using its own mega-rocket, the Space Launch System – NASA aims to put boots on the lunar surface in 2024. Musk has said he thinks this timeline is “doable,” though NASA’s Office of the Inspector General recently determined it is “highly unlikely.”

Whenever it happens, that mission would kick NASA’s Artemis program into full gear. The eventual goal is to establish a permanent human presence on the moon – picture ISS-like orbiting laboratories and research stations on the lunar surface. NASA plans to send human missions to Mars from there.

Musk has his own plans, including building SpaceX’s planned Starship-Super Heavy launch system and using it to build a self-sustaining settlement on Mars. For now, Starship prototypes are still trying to fly and land without exploding.

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A snapshot from a SpaceX livestream of a Starship prototype flying up to 6 miles above Texas.

SpaceX also plans to start launching private spaceflight missions for paying customers. The first, set to launch this year, is called Inspiration4. For that flight, billionaire Jared Isaacman purchased four seats on Crew Dragon Resilience – the same capsule that just splashed down in the ocean. He and three other civilians plan to take a three-day joy ride around Earth.

“I think it’s a good thing for human spaceflight to see more and more people getting up into orbit around Earth. It’s just an amazing experience,” Mike Hopkins told reporters in a call from the ISS last week when asked how he felt about civilians flying in the spaceship he’s been commanding.

“As we look to kind of transition low-Earth orbit to the commercial industry, this is a big step along that way. And then NASA can continue to focus on exploration and getting back to the moon and on to Mars.”

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Watch live: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship is bringing 4 astronauts back to Earth, ending NASA’s longest human spaceflight

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Flying aboard SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission for NASA are astronauts (from left) Mike Hopkins, Soichi Noguchi, Shannon Walker, and Victor Glover.

A gumdrop-shaped fireball is set to plummet through the dark Florida skies overnight.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship, carrying four astronauts for NASA, is preparing to plow through the atmosphere at 25 times the speed of sound, deploy four parachutes as it approaches the coast of Florida, and then glide to a gentle splashdown in the ocean at about 2:57 a.m. ET on Sunday.

The return journey has already begun. The spaceship, named Resilience, has backed away from the International Space Station (ISS), carrying Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins of NASA, along with Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Resilience carried these astronauts to the ISS in November. They have been living and working there ever since.

Their mission, called Crew-1, officially restored NASA’s ability to launch people into space on a US spacecraft for the first time since the Space Shuttles stopped flying in 2011. Six-month spaceflights have been routine for NASA astronauts launching on Russian Soyuz spaceships, but until now, the US had never flown such long-term missions on its own.

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There were 11 humans aboard the International Space Station last week.

Crew-1 is also SpaceX’s first routine astronaut flight for NASA. The agency has already purchased five more Crew Dragon missions. The second one, Crew-2, launched four more astronauts toward the ISS on April 23; they reached the station the following morning.

Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi greeted the new arrivals, but the ISS was getting crowded. So on Saturday evening, the Crew-1 team climbed back aboard the Crew Dragon Resilience for the journey home.

Watch live as Crew-1 returns to Earth

NASA is broadcasting the nearly seven-hour journey – including the fiery plunge to Earth and the splashdown at the end – via the livestream below, which began at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi boarded the Resilience capsule and closed its hatch behind them at 6:20 p.m. ET on Saturday. After about two hours of checkouts, the hooks keeping Resilience attached to the space station retracted at 8:35 p.m. ET, undocking the spaceship from the ISS. The vehicle then fired its thrusters to back away.

The Crew-1 return trip was originally scheduled for Wednesday, then for Saturday morning, but NASA delayed it twice after forecasts predicted high winds in the splashdown zones.

SpaceX has flown humans back to Earth from the ISS once before – on a crewed test flight called Demo-2. In May, that mission rocketed NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken into orbit. They stayed on the ISS for two months before splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico.

The entire descent and landing process is automated, but Hurley advised the Crew-1 astronauts to make sure they’re “staying ahead of the capsule,” according to Hopkins, the mission commander.

“Preparing for that landing is just going over our procedures and making sure when we get into that sequence of events, that we’re ready to go, and we’re following right along with all of the automation as it takes us to, hopefully, a safe landing,” Hopkins told reporters in a call from the ISS on Monday.

If all goes well, Resilience is expected to spend the next few hours orbiting Earth and maneuvering into position. At 10:58 p.m. ET, the capsule should jettison its trunk – a lower section outfitted with fuel tanks, solar panels, and other hardware – which it will no longer need.

From there, the Crew-1 astronauts could be in for a bumpy ride.

“The landing was – I would say it was more than what Doug and I expected,” Behnken told reporters after he returned to Earth aboard the spaceship. “I personally was surprised at just how quickly events all transpired.”

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NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, aboard the Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft on August 2, 2020.

“It felt like we were inside of an animal,” he added.

Behnken also said that pivotal moments of the landing process – such as when the capsule separated from its trunk and when the parachutes deployed – felt “very much like getting hit in the back of the chair with a baseball bat.”

What to expect as the astronauts plummet to Earth

As the Resilience spacecraft approaches Earth, it is expected to fire its thrusters continuously, pushing itself further into the atmosphere.

dragon v2 reentry
An animation of Crew Dragon plowing through the atmosphere.

Soon, the spaceship should be plummeting through the atmosphere, superheating the material around it to a blistering 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. At that point in his flight, Behnken said, he could feel the capsule heating up, and the force of Earth’s gravity pulling on him for the first time in two months. It felt like being in a centrifuge, he added.

The Crew Dragon’s heat shield – a collection of heat-resistant tiles that line the spaceship’s underbelly – must deflect that superheated material to protect the astronauts inside. After the Demo-2 landing, NASA and SpaceX found that one of those tiles had worn away more than expected. So SpaceX reinforced the heat shield with stronger materials.

Once it’s about 18,000 feet above the ocean, Resilience should deploy four parachutes – which brings a “pretty significant jolt,” Behnken said.

demo-2 splashdown parachutes crew dragon spacex
The Crew Dragon Endeavour lands in the Gulf of Mexico, returning astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to Earth on August 2, 2020.

From there, Resilience should glide to a gentle splashdown in the ocean at 2:57 a.m. ET on Sunday. A recovery crew is expected to retrieve the charred capsule and carry the astronauts to shore.

During Behnken and Hurley’s return to Earth, a crowd of onlooking boats got dangerously close to the spaceship after it splashed down. To prevent that from happening again, SpaceX, NASA, and the Coast Guard plan to secure a 10-mile no-boat perimeter around the Crew-1 splashdown site.

demo2 crew dragon recovery splashdown spacex nasa
The SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship lifts the Crew Dragon capsule Endeavour out of the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, on August 2, 2020.

“Landings are always fairly dynamic, particularly with the capsules like this, particularly when the chutes are opening. So that’s always a little bit exciting,” Hopkins said.

When asked what he’d like to eat upon returning from the ISS, he replied, “If I have an appetite, that’s going to be a bonus.”

This post has been updated with new information. It was originally published on April 26, 2021.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Watch SpaceX’s Crew-1 astronauts plummet to an ocean landing on Wednesday, ending the longest human spaceflight in NASA history

spacex nasa crew 1 mission 4x3
Flying aboard SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission for NASA are astronauts (from left) Mike Hopkins, Soichi Noguchi, Shannon Walker, and Victor Glover.

A gumdrop-shaped fireball is set to plummet to Earth on Wednesday.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship, carrying four astronauts for NASA, is scheduled to plow through the atmosphere at 25 times the speed of sound, deploy four parachutes as it approaches the coast of Florida, then glide to a gentle splashdown in the ocean at about 12:40 p.m ET.

The spaceship, named Resilience, flew to the International Space Station in November, carrying Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins of NASA, along with Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The astronauts have been living and working in orbit for more than five months – the longest human spaceflight in US history.

Their mission, called Crew-1, officially restored NASA’s ability to launch people to space on its own spacecraft for the first time since the Space Shuttles stopped flying in 2011. Six-month spaceflights have been routine for NASA astronauts launching on Russian Soyuz spaceships, but until now, the US had never flown such long-term missions on its own.

Crew-1 was also SpaceX’s first routine astronaut flight for NASA. The agency has already purchased five more Crew Dragon missions. The second one, Crew-2, launched four more astronauts on Friday and reached the ISS on Saturday morning.

nasa space x
There are currently 11 people aboard the International Space Station.

Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi greeted the new arrivals, but the ISS is now crowded. So on Wednesday morning, the Crew-1 team will climb back aboard the Crew Dragon Resilience for the journey home.

SpaceX has flown humans back to Earth from the ISS once before – on a crewed test flight called Demo-2. In May, that mission rocketed NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken into orbit. They stayed on the ISS for two months before splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico.

During Behnken and Hurley’s return to Earth, however, a crowd of onlooker boats got dangerously close to the spaceship after it splashed down. To prevent that from happening again, SpaceX, NASA, and the Coast Guard plan to secure a 10-mile no-boat perimeter around the Crew-1 splashdown site.

Watch live as Crew-1 returns to Earth

NASA will broadcast the entire day’s events via the livestream below, starting at 4:45 a.m. ET.

The entire descent and landing process is automated, but Hurley advised the Crew-1 astronauts to make sure they’re “staying ahead of the capsule,” according to Hopkins, who is the mission commander.

“Preparing for that landing is just going over our procedures and making sure, when we get into that sequence of events, that we’re ready to go, and we’re following right along with all of the automation as it takes us to, hopefully, a safe landing,” he told reporters in a call from the ISS on Monday.

Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi will board the Resilience capsule and close its hatch behind them at 5 a.m. ET. After two hours of checkouts, the hooks keeping Resilience attached to the space station should retract at 7:05 a.m. ET, undocking the spaceship from the ISS. The vehicle will then fire its thrusters to back away.

If all goes well, Resilience will spend the next few hours orbiting Earth and maneuvering into position. Then the capsule will jettison its trunk – a lower section outfitted with fuel tanks, solar panels, and other hardware – which the astronauts will no longer need.

From there, the Crew-2 astronauts could be in for a very bumpy ride.

“The landing was – I would say it was more than what Doug and I expected,” Behnken told reporters after he returned to Earth aboard the spaceship. “I personally was surprised at just how quickly events all transpired.”

“It felt like we were inside of an animal,” he added.

crew dragon return reentry demo2 doug hurley bob behnken
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, aboard the Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft, August 2, 2020.

Behnken also said that pivotal moments of the landing process – like when the capsule separated from its trunk and when the parachutes deployed – felt “very much like getting hit in the back of the chair with a baseball bat.”

As the Resilience spacecraft approaches Earth, it will fire its thrusters continuously, pushing itself further into the atmosphere.

dragon v2 reentry
An animation of Crew Dragon plowing through the atmosphere.

Soon, the spaceship will be plummeting through the atmosphere, superheating the material around it to a blistering 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. At that point, Behnken said, he could feel the capsule heating up, and the force of Earth’s gravity pulling on him for the first time in two months. It felt like being in a centrifuge, he added.

The Crew Dragon’s heat shield – a collection of heat-resistant tiles that line the spaceship’s underbelly – must deflect that super-heated material to protect the astronauts inside. After the Demo-2 landing, NASA and SpaceX found that one of those tiles had worn away more than expected. So SpaceX reinforced the heat shield with stronger materials.

Once it’s about 18,000 feet above the ocean, Resilience should deploy four parachutes – which brings a “pretty significant jolt,” according to Behnken.

demo-2 splashdown parachutes crew dragon spacex
The Crew Dragon Endeavour lands in the Gulf of Mexico, returning astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to Earth, August 2, 2020.

From there, Resilience should glide to a gentle splashdown in the ocean at 12:40 p.m. ET. A recovery crew will be waiting to retrieve the charred capsule and carry the astronauts to shore.

demo2 crew dragon recovery splashdown spacex nasa
The SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship lifts the Crew Dragon capsule Endeavour out of the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, August 2, 2020.

“Landings are always fairly dynamic, particularly with the capsules like this, particularly when the chutes are opening. So that’s always a little bit exciting,” Hopkins said.

When asked what he’d like to eat upon returning from the ISS, he replied: “If I have an appetite, that’s going to be a bonus.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Watch live: SpaceX is launching 4 astronauts aboard a recycled Crew Dragon spaceship for NASA on Friday

crew 2 astronauts spacex nasa
The Crew-2 astronauts pose during a training session at the SpaceX training facility in Hawthorne, California.

SpaceX is rocketing four astronauts toward the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday morning.

The company’s Crew Dragon spaceship is the first and only commercial vehicle to carry people into space. It’s now a cornerstone of NASA’s human spaceflight program.

Friday’s mission, called Crew-2, is the second routine astronaut flight that SpaceX is conducting for NASA. The agency has contracted six Crew Dragon missions in total. The first one, Crew-1, is still on the ISS. Those astronauts will be welcoming the four newcomers: Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur of NASA, Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency.

SpaceX NASA
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 39-A at Kennedy Space Center.

“We want this to become a regular way to get to the space station, which means, I don’t know, down the line hundreds of launches maybe,” Pesquet said during a March news conference.

The astronauts have ascended a launch tower to the top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and climbed aboard the Crew Dragon capsule that’s secured to the top. They’re set to roar into space at 5:49 a.m. ET on Friday.

“We’re ready and we’re excited to fly,” McArthur said in the news conference.

Watch the historic spaceflight on NASA’s livestream below.

Watch SpaceX’s recycled Crew Dragon Endeavour fly to space again

NASA TV has live coverage of the preparations, launch countdown, and liftoff:

NASA’s live coverage of the Crew-2 launch began at 1:30 a.m. ET on Friday, as the astronauts got suited up in their SpaceX spacesuits. After that, the astronauts said goodbye to their families, drove to the launchpad in a pair of custom Teslas, ascended the launch tower, and climbed aboard Crew Dragon.

With the astronauts strapped in and the spaceship’s hatch sealed shut, the rocket will be loaded with cryogenically chilled propellant in the 35 minutes before liftoff. If all goes well, it should roar past the launchpad, toward space at 5:49 a.m. ET.

This particular Crew Dragon capsule, named Endeavour, is the same one that flew the first commercial spaceflight last year, carrying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS in a demonstration mission. The capsule has since been refurbished and upgraded.

McArthur will pilot the spaceship, just as Behnken (her husband) did last summer.

crew dragon spaceship orbit earth crew 1 docking international space station
The Resilience capsule approaches the International Space Station for docking, November 16, 2020.

“I’m going to launch in the same seat. So that is kind of a fun thing that we can share, you know, I can tease him and say, ‘Hey, Can you hand over the keys? I’m ready now to go,'” McArthur recently said in a press call.

The Falcon 9 booster, which is also reusable, is the same one that launched Crew-1 in November.

Friday’s launch was originally set for Thursday morning, but NASA rescheduled because of an unfavorable weather forecast. If weather prevents the flight again on Friday, the agency may have its next launch opportunity on Monday.

After launch, Crew Dragon must orbit Earth and dock to the ISS

crew dragon resilience crew-1 docking international space station spacex nasa
The Resilience capsule docks to the International Space Station on November 16, 2020.

Once the Crew Dragon slips into orbit, it will stay there for nearly 24 hours. The astronauts will likely change out of their spacesuits, eat, get a full night’s sleep, have breakfast, organize their belongings, and, eventually, put their spacesuits back on to prepare for arrival at the ISS.

SpaceX and NASA expect the Crew Dragon to perform a series of automated maneuvers to dock to the ISS around 5:10 a.m. on Saturday. The astronauts have to be suited up in case something goes wrong and the Crew Dragon has to prematurely return to Earth. NASA TV will broadcast the docking operation as well.

crew 2 astronauts crew dragon spaceship
The Crew-2 astronauts during a training session in Hawthorne, California. Left to right: Thomas Pesquet, Megan McArthur, Shane Kimbrough, and Akihiko Hoshide.

The ISS will be crowded with 11 people for at least four days while Crew-1 is still on board. Those astronauts – Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Soichi Noguchi – will climb back into their own Crew Dragon capsule as early as April 28.

Their capsule, called Resilience, will then undock from the ISS, push itself toward Earth, and plummet through the atmosphere. Parachutes should release, allowing the spaceship to drift to a splashdown off the coast of Florida.

The Crew-2 astronauts will return in a similar fashion in about six months.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Watch SpaceX launch 4 astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA on Friday

crew 2 astronauts spacex nasa
The Crew-2 astronauts pose during a training session at the SpaceX training facility in Hawthorne, California.

SpaceX is rocketing four astronauts toward the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday morning.

The company’s Crew Dragon spaceship is the first and only commercial vehicle to carry people into space. It’s now a cornerstone of NASA’s human spaceflight program.

Friday’s mission, called Crew-2, is the second routine astronaut flight that SpaceX is conducting for NASA. The agency has contracted six Crew Dragon missions in total. The first one, Crew-1, is still on the ISS. Those astronauts will be welcoming the four newcomers: Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur of NASA, Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency.

SpaceX NASA
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 39-A at Kennedy Space Center.

“We want this to become a regular way to get to the space station, which means, I don’t know, down the line hundreds of launches maybe,” Pesquet said during a March news conference.

The astronauts are set to ascend a launch tower to the top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, climb aboard the Crew Dragon capsule that’s secured to the top, then roar into space at 5:49 a.m. ET on Friday.

“We’re ready and we’re excited to fly,” McArthur said in the news conference.

Watch the historic spaceflight on NASA’s livestream below.

Watch SpaceX’s recycled Crew Dragon Endeavour fly to space again

crew dragon spaceship orbit earth crew 1 docking international space station
The Resilience capsule approaches the International Space Station for docking on November 16, 2020.

NASA will begin live coverage of the Crew-2 launch at 1:30 a.m. ET on Friday, as the astronauts get suited up in their SpaceX spacesuits. After that, the astronauts will say goodbye to their families, drive to the launchpad in a pair of custom Teslas, ascend the launch tower, and climb aboard Crew Dragon.

With the astronauts strapped in and the spaceship’s hatch sealed shut, the rocket will be loaded with cryogenically chilled propellant. If all goes well, it should roar past the launchpad, toward space at 5:49 a.m. ET.

NASA TV has live coverage of the preparations, launch countdown, and liftoff:

This particular Crew Dragon capsule, named Endeavour, is the same one that flew the first commercial spaceflight last year, carrying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS in a demonstration mission. The capsule has since been refurbished and upgraded.

McArthur will pilot the spaceship, just as Behnken (her husband) did last summer.

“I’m going to launch in the same seat. So that is kind of a fun thing that we can share, you know, I can tease him and say, ‘Hey, Can you hand over the keys? I’m ready now to go,'” McArthur recently said in a press call.

The Falcon 9 booster, which is also reusable, is the same one that launched Crew-1 in November.

Friday’s launch was originally set for Thursday morning, but NASA rescheduled because of an unfavorable weather forecast. If weather prevents the flight again on Friday, the agency may have its next launch opportunity on Monday.

After launch, Crew Dragon must orbit Earth and dock to the ISS

crew dragon resilience crew-1 docking international space station spacex nasa
The Resilience capsule docks to the International Space Station on November 16, 2020.

Once the Crew Dragon slips into orbit, it will stay there for nearly 24 hours. The astronauts will likely change out of their spacesuits, eat, get a full night’s sleep, have breakfast, organize their belongings, and, eventually, put their spacesuits back on to prepare for arrival at the ISS.

SpaceX and NASA expect the Crew Dragon to perform a series of automated maneuvers to dock to the ISS around 5:10 a.m. on Saturday. The astronauts have to be suited up in case something goes wrong and the Crew Dragon has to prematurely return to Earth. NASA TV will broadcast the docking operation as well.

crew 1 astronauts crew dragon spaceship
The Crew-2 astronauts during a training session in Hawthorne, California. Left to right: Thomas Pesquet, Megan McArthur, Shane Kimbrough, and Akihiko Hoshide.

The ISS will be crowded with 11 people for at least four days while Crew-1 is still on board. Those astronauts – Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Soichi Noguchi – will climb back into their own Crew Dragon capsule as early as April 28.

Their capsule, called Resilience, will then undock from the ISS, push itself toward Earth, and plummet through the atmosphere. Parachutes should release, allowing the spaceship to drift to a splashdown off the coast of Florida.

The Crew-2 astronauts will return in a similar fashion in about six months.

Read the original article on Business Insider

SpaceX to launch billionaire Jared Isaacman into space with a mission of 3 private astronauts on the Crew Dragon

jared isaacman spacex crew dragon
Jared Isaacman at SpaceX in Hawthorne, California.

  • Billionaire Jared Isaacman has bought seats on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spaceship to launch himself, a healthcare worker and two others — to be selected via sweepstakes — into orbit in late 2021.
  • The mission, called Inspiration4, will be the first ever to fly a crew of people who aren’t professional astronauts into space.
  • “The risk is not zero,” SpaceX founder Elon Musk said, but this is a big step toward making spaceflight affordable and accessible.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

SpaceX is planning a first-of-its-kind spaceflight for the end of this year: launching a crew of people who aren’t professional astronauts into Earth’s orbit.

The mission is called Inspiration4. SpaceX announced on Monday that it’s targeting the fourth quarter of 2021 for launch, after 37-year-old billionaire Jared Isaacman bought a four-person flight aboard the company’s Crew Dragon spaceship.

Isaacman founded the payment processing company Shift4 Payments in 1999, and in 2011 co-founded Draken International, which owns an expansive fleet of fighter jets and trains pilots for the US military. Though he says he has spent over 6,000 hours flying jets and ex-military aircraft, he has never been to space. Neither have the three people he plans to put in the Dragon’s other seats.

That will make Inspiration4 the first mission in history to fly an entirely private commercial crew.

“This is an important milestone towards enabling access to space for everyone,” Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002, said in a call with reporters on Monday. “Because at first things are very expensive, and it is only through missions like this that we’re able to bring the cost down over time and make space accessible to all.”

elon musk space x SpaceX Chief Engineer Elon Musk speaks in front of Crew Dragon cleanroom at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California on October 10, 2019. (Photo by Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Elon Musk speaks in front of Crew Dragon cleanroom at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California on October 10, 2019.

Isaacman has already selected his first crew member: an unnamed woman who is a healthcare worker. She will serve as an “ambassador” for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which is benefitting from a fundraising effort that will help select the second crew member. That person will be chosen from a month-long sweepstakes aiming to raise $100 million for childhood-cancer research at St. Jude, in addition to a $100-million donation from Isaacman.

“If we’re going to continue making advances up there in space, then we have an obligation to do the same down here on Earth,” Isaacman said during the call.

The third Inspiration4 seat will go to an entrepreneur who creates an online store for their business using Isaacman’s company’s ecommerce service, Shift4Shop.

Requirements for eligibility include being 18 or older and being a US resident. Potential crew members will also undergo a basic medical screening, Musk said.

“If you can go on a roller coaster ride, like an intense roller coaster ride, you should be fine for flying on Dragon,” he added.

The crew selections are to be announced by the end of February. Then, the crew will immediately begin SpaceX’s astronaut-training program, with Isaacman making some additions inspired by his mountain-climbing experience.

“I intend to get four people in a tent that I can attest is absolutely smaller than the Dragon spacecraft, on a mountain when it’s snowing out, and introduce everybody to some really stressful situations,” Isaacman said. “We are all going to know each other incredibly well long before we ever strap into Dragon.”

‘Pioneers’ of a new era of private space exploration

SpaceX launched the first-ever commercial spaceflight in May 2020, rocketing NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station on a demonstration mission called Demo-2.

After the Crew Dragon safely returned Behnken and Hurley to Earth, parachuting them into the Gulf of Mexico two months after their launch, SpaceX began the first of six ISS-rotation missions that NASA contracted from the company.

The Crew-1 mission launched SpaceX’s first full crew of four astronauts in November, aboard a Dragon capsule named Resilience, which remains attached to the ISS until the astronauts return in spring.

That’s the spaceship that SpaceX plans to give Isaacman for his mission later this year.

crew dragon spaceship orbit earth crew 1 docking international space station
The Resilience capsule approaches the International Space Station for docking, November 16, 2020.

“Any mission where there’s a crew onboard makes me nervous,” Musk told NBC News’s Tom Costello in an interview that aired on Monday. “The risk is not zero.”

“When you’ve got a brand new mode of transportation, you have to have pioneers,” he added.

Inspiration4 is set to launch aboard a Falcon 9 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The rocket should push the capsule into Earth’s orbit, where it will orbit at whatever altitude Isaacman wants, for as long as Isaacman wants.

“Where do you want to go? We’ll take you there,” Musk said to him during Monday’s call, adding, “You can change your mind too.”

For now, the plan is to orbit at the ISS altitude of about 250 miles (400 kilometers) for two to four days, according to Isaacman and Musk. It’s not yet clear what they will do with their time in space. Isaacman said it will involve “some experiments” for research institutions like St. Jude, but he declined to elaborate.

“We’re going to release details in the near future as to the payload and experiments that we hope to bring on board,” he said.

Via missions like these, Musk hopes that the cost of spaceflight with SpaceX will drop “exponentially” over time, since they will help fund the development of his company’s Starship-Super Heavy launch system. SpaceX is designing and test-launching prototypes of that future system at its facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. Musk wants the final launch system – which may stand 120 meters (394 feet) tall – to be fully reusable.

starship reusable rocket spaceship prototype sn8 serial number 8 launch boca chica texas december 9 2020 50703878421_7712bb60d3_o
SpaceX’s Starship serial No. 8 rocket-ship prototype launches from a pad in Boca Chica, Texas, on December 9, 2020.

If it works, Starship might slash the cost of reaching space about 1,000-fold, power round-the-world hypersonic travel on Earth, and fly astronauts to the moon. Musk’s ultimate plan is to build 1,000 Starships, use them to fly people and cargo to Mars, and build an independent, self-sustaining city there.

“The key to being affordable to all is full and rapid reusability, so that would be with the Starship program,” he said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A critical test of NASA’s moon rocket ended abruptly on Saturday, possibly dashing hopes of launching in 2021

NASA sls engine shutdown space launch system hot fire
An SLS engine burns propellant (left), then abruptly shuts down (right) during a hot fire test on January 16, 2021.

NASA’s mega-sized moon rocket hit a snag during a critical test on Saturday, and the error could further delay the agency’s effort to send astronauts back to the moon.

The rocket, called Space Launch System (SLS), is designed to eventually stand 365 feet (111 meters) and ferry astronauts to the moon sometime in the mid- to late-2020s. The system is an essential piece of a larger program called Artemis, a roughly $30 billion effort to put boots back on the lunar surface for the first time since 1972. NASA has spent about $18 billion developing the rocket.

The SLS core stage – the system’s largest piece and its structural backbone – was assembled and heavily strapped down at Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, on Saturday for a critical “hot fire” test. For the first time, the rocket was ready to simultaneously fire its four powerful RS-25 engines as it would for launch.

nasa space launch system sls core stage green run stennis january 2021
Crews at Stennis Space Center lift the core stage of NASA’s Space Launch System into place at test stand B-2 on January 22, 2020.

The core stage is the world’s largest and most powerful rocket stage, according to NASA. It hosts five mains sections, including a 537,000-gallon (2 million-liter) tank for liquid hydrogen, a 196,000-gallon (742,000-liter) tank for liquid oxygen, four RS-25 engines, avionics computers, and other subsystems. Boeing is the lead contractor for the stage, and Aerojet Rocketdyne is responsible for its RS-25 engines, which used to help propel NASA’s fleet of space shuttles.

The fuel tanks were filled with 733,000 gallons of cryogenically chilled propellant on Saturday, and the engines roared to life at about 5:27 p.m. EST.

“It was like an earthquake,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters in a press conference after the test. “It was a magnificent moment. And it just brought joy that after all this time, now we’ve got a rocket. The only rocket on the face of the planet capable of taking humans to the moon was firing all four RS-25 engines at the same time.”

The engines were supposed to fire continuously for eight minutes. But just one minute into the test, they suddenly shut down.

The whole thing was captured on NASA’s live broadcast:

Following publication of this story, which stated there was a problem with one of the engines, Ryan McKibben, the deputy chief of mechanical operations at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, contacted Insider with new details about the anomaly.

“I can assure you as the test conductor that we did not end the test early due to our engines,” McKibben said. “We had a redundant sensor go out on an engine. But the engine was and is still in great shape after the test. The cutoff was due to other reasons.”

This particular rocket stage is the one that’s set to fly Artemis 1 – an uncrewed test flight around the moon. NASA doesn’t want to push the rocket so hard as to damage it during testing, so it set conservative limits on the hardware’s operations for Saturday’s hot fire.

In a blog post on Tuesday, NASA said that its preliminary investigation into the hot fire had revealed that these strict limits may have been the source of the shutdown.

‘No, this is not a failure’

During the hot fire, the engines were “gimbaling,” or pivoting, to imitate how they would move to direct the rocket’s thrust during flight. The systems that control these movements are powered by Core Stage Auxiliary Power Units (CAPUs).

NASA sls space launch system hot fire engines
Four RS-25 engines fire during the SLS hot fire test on January 16, 2021.

When the hydraulic system on the CAPU for Engine 2 exceeded NASA’s conservative limits, the flight computers automatically shut down the entire test.

“If this scenario occurred during a flight, the rocket would have continued to fly using the remaining CAPUs to power the thrust vector control systems for the engines,” NASA said in its post.

Two other issues arose during the hot fire, though they weren’t significant enough to shut down the operation. Engine 4 lost a redundant sensor, leading it to register a “major component failure” about 1.5 seconds after firing began. Controllers also saw a flash next to the thermal-protection blanket covering that engine, though the blog post didn’t reveal any findings on what may have caused it.

At the time of shutdown, “we did still have four good engines up and running at 109%,” John Honeycutt, the SLS program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, said in the press conference.

“The amount of progress that we’ve made here today is remarkable. And no, this is not a failure. This is a test. And we tested today in a way that is meaningful, where we’re going to learn and we’re going to make adjustments and we’re going to fly to the moon,” Bridenstine said.

NASA may need to re-do the hot fire test

Saturday’s hot fire was supposed to be the eighth and final step in NASA’s “Green Run,” a program designed to thoroughly test each part of the core stage ahead of SLS’s first launch for Artemis 1, which currently scheduled for November 2021.

space launch system
An artist’s rendering of NASA’s Space Launch System rocketing toward low-Earth orbit.

But that timeline may be unrealistic now. If the hot fire went well, NASA was planning to ship the rocket to Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida in February. There, workers would stack all the segments of the two boosters required for sending Artemis 1 around the moon.

It’s unclear how long it will take NASA to correct the engine error and get the core stage to Florida now.

“It depends what the anomaly was and how challenging it’s going to be to fix it. And we’ve got a lot to learn to figure that out,” Bridenstine said. “It very well could be that it’s something that’s easily fixable and we could feel confident going down to the Cape and staying on schedule. It’s also true that we could find a challenge that’s going to take more time.”

space launch system sls hot fire nasa green run
The SLS core stage fires its engines for the hot fire test on January 16, 2021.

The agency may have to redo the hot fire test. The SLS team wanted to get to at least 250 seconds of the engines firing together to have high confidence in the vehicle. Saturday’s test lasted for just 67 seconds.

“My advice would be to retest and get complete data,” Wayne Hale, a retired NASA Space-Shuttle flight director, said on Twitter after NASA’s updates from its preliminary investigation. “May be a couple of weeks but schedule is secondary.”

It would take at least four or five days to prepare the Stennis Space Center facilities for another test. If NASA needs to swap the current engines for new ones, workers can do it on-site at the Stennis Space Center. Honeycutt estimated it would take about seven to 10 days to do that.

“This is why we test,” Bridenstine said. “Before we put American astronauts on American rockets, that’s when we need it to be perfect.”

This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published at 8:17 p.m. EST on January 16, 2021.

Dave Mosher contributed reporting.

Read the original article on Business Insider