Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ rocket company, announced that it would send Good Morning America host Michael Strahan to the edge of space. Strahan will be joined by the daughter of America’s first astronaut, as well as four paying customers.
Liftoff from Blue Origin’s launch facilities near the rural town of Van Horn, Texas, is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. CT on December 9.
Investors Dylan Taylor, Evan Dick, and Lane Bess, as well as Bess’ adult child, Cameron Bess, will join Strahan and Laura Shepard Churchley, whose father Alan Shepard went on a suborbital flight in 1961 and later walked on the moon. Blue Origin stated that Strahan and Shepard Churchley will be “honorary guests,” similar to the last celebrity Blue Origin sent to the edge of space, William Shatner, and that they have not paid for their tickets.
Blue Origin will fill all six seats on its New Shepard rocket and capsule, named after Alan Shepard, for the first time on this flight. Only four seats were filled on the company’s previous two flights, including the July flight that sent Bezos himself into space. During a segment on Tuesday morning, Strahan announced his intention to join the flight, noting that Blue Origin had him measured for his flight suit and had him test out one of the New Shepard capsule’s seats to ensure he’d fit.
Strahan played 15 seasons in the NFL, all with the New York Giants, with whom he won the Super Bowl in 2007. In 2014, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Suborbital flights are very different from orbital flights, which are what most people think of when they think of spaceflight. Blue Origin’s New Shepard flights will be short, up-and-down trips, but they will travel more than 62 miles above Earth, which is widely regarded as the edge of outer space.
Orbital rockets must generate enough thrust to reach at least 17,000 miles per hour, or orbital velocity, which essentially allows a spacecraft to continue whipping around the Earth rather than being dragged back down by gravity.
Suborbital flights necessitate significantly less power and speed. That means less time for the rocket to burn, lower temperatures scorching the outside of the spacecraft, less force and compression ripping at the spacecraft, and fewer chances for something to go very wrong.
New Shepard’s suborbital fights reach about three times the speed of sound — roughly 2,300 miles per hour — and fly straight up until the rocket’s fuel runs out. The crew capsule will then separate from the rocket at the top of the trajectory and briefly continue upward before almost hovering at the top of the flight path, providing the passengers with a few minutes of weightlessness. Before hitting the ground, the New Shepard capsule deploys a large plume of parachutes to slow its descent to less than 20 miles per hour.
This will be the third of what Blue Origin hopes will be a series of space tourism launches, transporting wealthy customers to the edge of space. It could be a source of revenue for Blue Origin’s other, more ambitious space projects, such as the development of a 300-foot-tall rocket capable of launching satellites into orbit and a lunar lander.
However, the announcement comes at a time when Blue Origin is dealing with a major setback. The company was passed over for a highly sought-after NASA contract to build the lander that will land humans on the moon for the first time in more than a half-century. Blue Origin lost to Elon Musk’s SpaceX and fought the decision, even taking it to federal court, only to be turned down and blamed for delaying the moon landing by a year, to 2025.
Blue Origin is also still dealing with the fallout from an explosive public essay alleging that the company fosters a toxic workplace environment and is riddled with safety issues, which the Federal Aviation Administration, which licenses commercial launches, has said it is investigating. Blue Origin has categorically denied the allegations in the essay and has stated time and again that safety is its top priority.