Jeff Bezos has hit a particular stride lately with Blue Origin, the commercial space company he founded in 2000 in the hopes of “building a road to space.” For the sake of fostering interest in the space tourism industry, testing their reusable launch vehicle, and growing his company’s brand, he’s conducting recurring launches with the New Shepard featuring high-profile clientele. At the same time, he aims to make each new launch a record-setting event.
On Nov. 23rd, Blue Origin announced the names of the six people who would fly aboard the New Shepard launch vehicle on its nineteenth flight (NS-19), scheduled for Dec. 9th. Among them is Laura Shepard Churchley, the eldest daughter of astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American astronaut to go to space, the fifth man to walk on the Moon, and for whom the New Shepard launch vehicle is named.
In addition to being the first American astronaut to fly to space as part of the Mercury Program in 1961, he was also the fifth man to walk on the Moon as part of the Apollo 14 mission (1971), where he famously played a round of golf! Alan Shepard died in 1998 due to complications caused by chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He was 74 years old and was survived by three daughters: Laura, Julie, and Alice.
Along with her two sisters, Julie has spent most of her life promoting space exploration and her father’s accomplishments. Since their father’s passing in 1998, they’ve continued to promote his legacy and encourage people to seek careers in space. Julie currently serves as Chair of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Board of Trustees, which raises funds and mentoring for college students and scholars seeking careers in space-related research and STEM.
Churchley will be joined by Good Morning America co-anchor Michael Strahan, who was also personally invited by Bezos. The remaining four paying customers include Voyager Space Holdings Chairman and CEO Dylan Taylor, investor Evan Dick, cloud-based internet security systems developer Lane Bess, and his son Cameron Bess. These last two guests represent the latest record-breaking feat, as Lane and Cameron will be the first parent-child pair to fly to space.
Julie appeared on Good Morning America yesterday and spoke to fellow-traveler Strahan about the upcoming launch and what she expects of it:
“I’m excited to be kind of following in my father’s footsteps, for starters. And I’m excited just to go up higher into space to see what it all looks like. I’ve been looking at stars with my father together, and now we’re all just going to get really close, and it’s going to be thrilling.”
The New Shepard rocket launching from its facility in West Texas. Image: Blue Origin
Strahan then noted Alan Shepard’s many accomplishments in space and asked what she thought her father’s reaction might be about the upcoming flight. In response, Laura recounted what Shepard told his daughters before he went to space for the first time, decades ago:
“Well, first-off, I would have to tell him what I was going to be doing. And I would let him know [the same way] he let us known when he was going up first in 1961. I would say that ‘Blue Origin [is] going to put me in a spacecraft, and they’re going to put the spacecraft on top of a rocket. They’re going to blast me up into space and I will come back to Earth safely.’ That’s exactly what daddy said to us. So he would be sitting there, on the sofa, listening to me. He would stand up, come over to me, give me a big hug, and a kiss. And he would say ‘Go for it, Laura! Have a great ride!’”
Strahan is a Super Bowl Champion, a two-time Emmy award winner, and Peabody award-winning journalist. He also serves as an analyst for “Fox NFL Sunday” and headlines the Thursday Night Football Pregame Show. Strahan also runs a talent agency (SMAC Entertainment) and is an active supporter of charitable organizations, like the USO, HELP USA, and Merging Vets and Players. As an invited guest on this flight, he will receive a stipend to donate to The Boys & Girls Club.
Taylor is a well-known space industry entrepreneur ad the Chairman and CEO of Voyager Space Holdings, a commercial space firm headquartered in Denver. He’s also the founder of Space for Humanity, a global nonprofit seeking to “democratize access to space” (also partnered with Virgin Galactic) and a co-founding patron of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, a private industry group that seeks to promote the development of commercial human spaceflight.
The interior of the New Shepard capsule. Credit: Blue Origin
Dick is an engineer, investor, and a charitable supporter of the Darwin Foundation, which supports conservation efforts in the Galapagos Islands, and the Population Relief International Corp, which provides free contraceptives and access to reproductive services. Dick is also an ATP-rated pilot and volunteer for Starfighters Aerospace, which maintains the only fleet of flight-ready F-104 supersonic aircraft at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
Bess is best known for co-founding Zscaler and Palo Alto Networks (two of the largest cybersecurity companies today), a Trustee at Carnegie Mellon University, and the founder of Bess Ventures and Advisory, which supports firms offering innovation and disruption technologies. Cameron, Bess’ son, is a content creator with a background in computer science, game design, and software development that helps marginalized communities represent themselves and inspire others.
As with previous flights, the NS-19 flight will also carry special cargo consisting of postcards submitted from each astronaut on behalf of Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future. This organization aims to help future generations pursue careers in STEM and help build humanity’s future in space. Their Postcards to Space program also aims to provide students access to space using Blue Origin’s launch vehicles.
The launch is currently scheduled for 09:00 AM CST (10:00 AM EST; 07:00 AM PST) and will take place at the company’s Launch Site One facility in West Texas. This will be New Shepard’s third crewed flight this year, the sixth launch since flights began earlier this year, and the 19th flight of the vehicle overall. Live coverage of the event will begin 90 minutes before launch on BlueOrigin.com.