VAN HORN, Texas—Following the contrail blazed by “Star Trek” actor William Shatner to boldly go where few celebrities have gone before, two more honorary guests of Jeff Bezos’ space tourism venture Blue Origin are ready to take a free joyride to the final frontier.
The company’s New Shepard rocketship is due for liftoff from Texas at 8:45 a.m. Central time on Saturday, with TV personality and retired NFL star Michael Strahan strapped in beside the eldest daughter of the late pioneering astronaut Alan Shepard.
After a launch delay of a couple of days due to high winds, weather for the new flight time is looking favorable, lead flight director Steve Lanius said on Friday.
“The launch crew is ready, the vehicle is ready, the crew is ready, and New Shepard is go for launch,” he said in a Blue Shepard webcast.
The spacecraft itself is named for Alan Shepard, who in 1961 made history as the second person, and first American, to travel into space, on a 15-minute suborbital flight. He later walked on the moon as commander of the Apollo 14 mission.
Laura Shepard Churchley, a schoolgirl when her father first soared to space but now in her 70s, and Strahan, 50, co-anchor of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” were chosen as courtesy promotional passengers to fly free of charge with four lesser-known wealthy figures who paid undisclosed but presumably hefty sums for their New Shepard seats.
Saturday’s flight, lifting off from Blue Origin’s launch site about 20 miles outside the west Texas town of Van Horn, is expected to reach a maximum altitude of about 65 miles—a few miles into outer space and above the internationally recognized space boundary known as the Karman Line.
At the pinnacle of the fully autonomous flight, set to last just over 10 minutes from launch to touchdown in the Texas desert, the passengers experience a few minutes of weightlessness.
The four paying customers are space industry executive Dylan Taylor, engineer-investor Evan Dick, venture capitalist Lane Bess, and his 23-year-old son, Cameron Bess. The Besses are making history as the first parent-child pair to fly in space together, according to Blue Origin.
The launch marks the third space tourism flight for Blue Origin, the company Bezos—founder and executive chairman of retail giant Amazon.com—formed two decades ago.
Bezos himself tagged along on the inaugural flight in July, joining his brother, Mark Bezos, octogenarian female aviator Wally Funk, and 18-year-old Oliver Daeman, a Dutch high school graduate and beneficiary of a $28 million auction sweepstake.
Shatner, who embodied the promise of space travel as Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise on the 1960s television series “Star Trek,” joined the second New Shepard crew in October to become the oldest person in space at age 90.
British billionaire Richard Branson beat Bezos to the punch by nine days when he rode along on the first fully crewed voyage of his own space tourism venture Virgin Galactic Holding Inc, soaring to the edge of space over New Mexico in a rocket plane released at high altitude from a carrier jet.
A third player in the burgeoning space tourism sector, fellow billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, inaugurated his SpaceX citizen-astronaut service in September with the launch of the first all-civilian crew ever to reach Earth orbit.
By Joe Skipper and Steve Gorman