Today is a great day for space enthusiasts, as this night we will be celebrating the anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon. But once is not custom, another rocket stole the show at Apollo 11 on July 20, 2021 with the historic flight of New Shepard; Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen have just completed the first private, manned, unmanned commercial flight in Blue Origin history. If you missed this event, don’t panic: here’s a step-by-step summary of the flight.
T-1H: Safety first
The live broadcast was provided by Ariane Cornell, Commercial Director at Blue Origin, and especially Gary Lai, the highly respected chief architect of New Shepard. The first minutes were largely devoted to the security aspect of the mission, to dispel any doubts related to its dangerousness. For example, the engineer explained that each system without exception, from the batteries to the parachutes and the ejection system, was systematically present in duplicate on board the capsule. This redundancy makes it possible to remain serene in the event of equipment failure; a system that has proved its worth recently in the case of Hubble.
We were then treated to a few details on the Astronaut Training Center, an area specially reserved for the conditioning of passengers. This is where they were explained the different procedures, which they had to learn like the back of their hands. A condition sine qua non to participate in the rest of the training, this time physical and sensory. Because the site is not only a classroom: it also includes a particularly immersive flight simulator, since it even integrates audio and vibrations. The objective is to prepare civilian recruits for real conditions; we can easily imagine that the experience must be very impressive at first.
T-30mn: The tension rises
About 45 minutes before takeoff, we had the first images of the four astronauts when they left the center. The quartet boarded a 4 × 4 to cover the 3 kilometers that separate them from the launcher; just enough time to broadcast a short interview with Wally Funk, with his usual verve. Asked what she expected from this journey, the dean of the mission said she was impatient to finally be able to feel the real weightlessness, and try all the maneuvers she was able to practice in the Mercury 13 simulator. Symbolically, it was she who was the first to climb the launch tower, half an hour from the launch.
An enthusiasm that contrasts with the tense face of Gary Lai, who takes the opportunity to explain some technical details on the boarding procedure. For the chief craftsman of New Shepard, the stakes are high; despite all his efforts to appear relaxed, we can feel him feverish, tense. Understandable when you are about to send your own boss into space!
During boarding, same observation in the neighboring premises. In the control room, the mines are closed; there is a deadly silence, with the exception of the radio operator who ensures contact with the crew. In the capsule, the Blue Origin teams are busy harnessing the passengers, while carrying out countless security checks.
At T-20mn, the door closes behind the four budding astronauts. With the precious cargo now well installed, all that remains is to complete the safety checklist and refueling. Gary Lai seems more tense with each passing minute; three minutes from the start, you could almost follow the safety checklist live on his face.
T-0mn: On the way to space… without the images
After the usual countdown, New Shepard rushes off with a deafening roar. And there, big disappointment; the Blue Origin teams did not see fit to place an on-board camera on the device. The four passengers will therefore be the only ones to be able to appreciate the view during the trip; the public, unfortunately had to be satisfied with a white point on a blue background. We were just able to distinguish the separation of the propellant and the capsule, after three minutes of flight.
A few seconds later, the crew crossed the Karman line, the space border located at an altitude of 100 km. It’s official: Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen are officially astronauts! A change of status celebrated as it should, which we would have gladly seen on video. At least, we had the right to an audio retransmission of the capsule, from 1: 46: 00 on the video above .. The opportunity to hear the amazed reactions of the crew, now in weightlessness.
Luckily, this microphone also allowed us to capture a funny sequence. At the start of the descent, Oliver Daemen and Wally Funk seemed so engrossed in the sight that they forgot to answer the safety check from the radio operator! When the latter contacted them at 1:48:50, she only received exclamations in return. It was one of the two Bezos brothers who had to intervene to remind them to answer! But the latter seemed just as excited. During its status check, the founder of Amazon rewarded the operator with a “HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY !” without ambiguity. An innocuous sequence, but which clearly demonstrates the effect that space travel can have on neophytes. After three minutes of weightlessness, the four travelers began the descent. A supersonic boom and six parachutes later, the launcher is the first to make landfall after 7 minutes and 24 seconds of flight, followed by the capsule three minutes later.
T + 10: Emotion and relief
While the four passengers have certainly lived the experience of a lifetime, it is also a great moment for all the technical teams. Starting with Gary Lai, who has finally loosened his jaw and now wears a radiant smile. “it may have seemed simple, but it was anything but easy ”, concedes the architect of New Shepard. After years of development, it is in any case a great reward for all the trades who participated in the project. On the travelers’ side, ecstasy is evident. All wear a smile from ear to ear; a few minutes after his return, Wally Funk still does not seem to have touched Earth.
Ultimately, it is a full box. Technically, the mission went perfectly. But above all, from a communication point of view, the success is just as resounding. Jeff Bezos, who has just lived by his own admission on “Happiest day of his life“, Had the big premiere he dreamed of for his space tourism program. The new generation space race is well and truly launched!
The full video of the broadcast is available on the channel YouTube de Blue Origin.
Source: Journal du Geek by www.journaldugeek.com.
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