Michael Strahan goes to space on Blue Origin mission

By Fernando Alfonso III, Adrienne Vogt and Ramishah Maruf, CNN

Updated 12:18 p.m. ET, December 11, 2021
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10:03 a.m. ET, December 11, 2021

Michael Strahan goes to space on Blue Origin mission

From CNN's Michael Ballaban

(Blue Origin)
(Blue Origin)

Jeff Bezos' rocket company, Blue Origin, has sent "Good Morning America" host Michael Strahan, the daughter of famed astronaut Alan Shepard, and four paying customers on a supersonic joy ride to the edge of space. 

The crew took off aboard one of Blue Origin’s suborbital space tourism rockets, called New Shepard, at 10:01 a.m. ET from the company’s launch facilities near the rural town of Van Horn, Texas, where Bezos owns a sprawling ranch.

Strahan and Laura Shepard Churchley, whose father Alan Shepard went on a suborbital flight in 1961 and later walked on the moon, rode alongside investors Dylan Taylor, Evan Dick, and Lane Bess, as well as Bess' adult child, Cameron Bess — all of whom paid for their seats.

Blue Origin said that Strahan and Shepard Churchley are flying as "honorary guests" and did not pay for their tickets.

The trip will take 10 minutes from takeoff to landing.

The crew will experience roughly three minutes of weightlessness at the top of their flight path before their capsule deploys parachutes to slow their descent and touch back down near their Texas launch site. 

This was the third crewed mission for Blue Origin, following actor William Shatner’s flight in October and Bezos’ own trip in July.

9:48 a.m. ET, December 11, 2021

The New Shepard will go up and down in just 11 minutes

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

The Blue Origin flight today will go up and come right back down, in less time — about 11 minutes — than it takes most people to get to work.

This is a suborbital flight, which means the New Shepard rocket ship will not make it to orbit. However it will go more than 62 miles above Earth, which is widely considered to be the edge of outer space.

Orbital rockets need to drum up enough power to hit at least 17,000 miles per hour, or what's known as orbital velocity, essentially giving a spacecraft enough energy to continue whipping around the Earth rather than being dragged immediately back down by gravity.

Suborbital flights require far less power and speed. That means less time the rocket is required to burn, lower temperatures scorching the outside of the spacecraft, less force and compression ripping at the spacecraft, and generally fewer opportunities for something to go very wrong.

New Shepard's suborbital fights hit about about three times the speed of sound — roughly 2,300 miles per hour — and fly directly upward until the rocket expends most of its fuel.

The crew capsule will then separate from the rocket at the top of the trajectory and briefly continue upward before the capsule almost hovers at the top of its flight path, giving the passengers a few minutes of weightlessness.

It works sort of like an extended version of the weightlessness you experience when you reach the peak of a roller coaster hill, just before gravity brings your cart — or, in Jeff Bezos' case, your space capsule — screaming back down toward the ground.

Here's a look at the expected flight:

9:37 a.m. ET, December 11, 2021

Strahan and others have made their way into the capsule

(Blue Origin)
(Blue Origin)

Michael Strahan and the other passengers have made their way into the New Shepard capsule as the crew prepares to launch.

The "Good Morning America" host is joined by Laura Shepard Churchley, the daughter of Alan Shepard, as well as four paying customers.

9:34 a.m. ET, December 11, 2021

Here's what you need to know about Blue Origin's desert launch site

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

The sign outside of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin operations in West Texas on July 19 in Van Horn, Texas.
The sign outside of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin operations in West Texas on July 19 in Van Horn, Texas. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Blue Origin's New Shepard launch site — named simply "Launch Site One" — is in the middle of a massive private ranch that Bezos owns in rural West Texas. And it's very rural.

It's roughly a 30-minute drive north of Van Horn, Texas, a town that's home to about 2,000 people, a handful of restaurants, a small local paper, and an Old West-style downtown strip.

And all that well, space, is great for spaceflight. Neighbors don't love it if the best case scenario involves loud sonic booms, and the worst case scenario involves potentially destructive explosions.

Blue Origin broke ground on its Launch Site One in 2006, and it didn't have paved roads until 2018. And though the launch site is isolated, Blue Origin workers spend quite a bit of time in the Van Horn area. (About 275 people work full-time at the site.)

One of the biggest tips? Beware of critters.

West Texas is known to have an array of pests lurking around, most notably rattlesnakes.

9:26 a.m. ET, December 11, 2021

Michael Strahan and others make their way toward the New Shepard rocket and capsule

(Blue Origin)
(Blue Origin)

"Good Morning America" host Michael Strahan and others stopped to admire the New Shepard rocket and capsule as they continue preparations for launch.

Liftoff is slated for 9:45 a.m. ET today from Blue Origin launch facilities near the rural town of Van Horn, Texas.

9:18 a.m. ET, December 11, 2021

Blue Origin says its ultimate goal is to colonize space

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

There's been plenty of blowback about billionaires in space. Bezos, one of the world's richest men, has funded Blue Origin almost solely out of his own pocket. And the way things in the commercial space industry are shaking out has critics concerned that the ultra-wealthy view outer space as their own personal escape hatch.

Still, Blue Origin and other billionaire-backed space companies put out a lot of talk about their technologies paving the way toward a "democratization" of space in which everyday people — not just government-trained astronauts — get to experience the thrill of spaceflight. These early suborbital space tourism flights are prohibitively expensive to the vast majority of people, and that's not expected to change anytime soon.

Blue Origin, however, describes its long-term vision as one of spacefaring colonization and benevolence:

Blue Origin was founded by Jeff Bezos with the vision of enabling a future where millions of people are living and working in space to benefit Earth. To preserve Earth, Blue Origin believes that humanity will need to expand, explore, find new energy and material resources, and move industries that stress Earth into space. Blue Origin is working on this today by developing partially and fully reusable launch vehicles that are safe, low cost, and serve the needs of all civil, commercial and defense customers. 

It's still early days, of course. The New Shepard rocket and capsule system is suborbital, meaning it doesn't drum up nearly enough energy to remain in space for more than a couple of minutes. But the company is working on a much larger rocket for that purpose — called New Glenn — and a lunar lander that it hopes will be used to support NASA missions.

Bezos has also talked in the past about O'Neill colonies, a concept for spinning space stations that can mimic Earthlike gravity for passengers, as a possible habitat for future space dwellers.

Who will own the space stations? And will passengers be employees or tourists? Will space travel, if necessary to save humanity, only be available to those who can afford to pay? And is Bezos' time and money better spent trying to solve Earthly problems rather than seeking to escape them?

We don't know. There are plenty of unanswered questions and raging debates.

9:04 a.m. ET, December 11, 2021

This is Blue Origin's third space tourism launch

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

Today's flight to send Michael Strahan and others to the cusp of space will mark the third of what Blue Origin hopes will be many space tourism launches, carrying wealthy customers to the edge of space.

It could be a line of business that helps to fund Blue Origin's other, more ambitious space projects, which include developing a 300-foot-tall rocket powerful enough to blast satellites into orbit and a lunar lander.

But the news also comes as Blue Origin is grappling with a major setback. The company was passed over for a highly coveted NASA contract to build the lander that will put humans on the moon for the first time in a half century. Blue Origin lost out to its chief competitor, Elon Musk's SpaceX, and fought the decision — even escalating the battle to federal court — only to be turned down and pinned with some of the blame for delaying the moon landing a year, to 2025.

Blue Origin is also still facing blowback from an explosive public essay that alleged the company fosters a toxic workplace environment and is rife with safety issues, which the Federal Aviation Administration, which licenses commercial launches, said it is reviewing. Blue Origin staunchly denied the allegations in the essay and has repeatedly said that safety is its top priority.

8:42 a.m. ET, December 11, 2021

A morning show host, the daughter of the first US astronaut and 4 paying customers are going to space today

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

This photo provided by Blue Origin shows, from left: Dylan Taylor, Lane Bess, Cameron Bess, Laura Shepard Churchley, Michael Strahan and Evan Dick.
This photo provided by Blue Origin shows, from left: Dylan Taylor, Lane Bess, Cameron Bess, Laura Shepard Churchley, Michael Strahan and Evan Dick. (Blue Origin/AP)

Jeff Bezos' rocket company, Blue Originannounced last month that it would be launching Good Morning America host Michael Strahan to the edge of space.

Strahan will be joined by the daughter of the first American astronaut and four paying customers.

Liftoff is slated for 9:45 a.m. ET today from Blue Origin launch facilities near the rural town of Van Horn, Texas.

Strahan and Laura Shepard Churchley, whose father Alan Shepard went on a suborbital flight in 1961 and later walked on the moon, will be joined by investors Dylan Taylor, Evan Dick, and Lane Bess, as well as Bess' adult child, Cameron Bess. Blue Origin said that Strahan and Shepard Churchley will be "honorary guests," much like the last celebrity Blue Origin sent to the edge of space, William Shatner, and have not paid for their tickets.

This flight will mark the first time that Blue Origin will fill all six seats on its New Shepard rocket and capsule, which is named for Alan Shepard. On the company's two previous flights — including the July flight that sent Bezos himself to space — only four of the seats were taken up.

That means the passengers will have a bit less wiggle room than prior customers, especially Strahan, who is six feet, five inches tall.