A husband and wife team is also part of this historic takeoff
HOUSTON (KIAH) A quick trip to outer space is once again a choice for Blue Origin. Six more people are set to head into suborbital space this month for the company’s fourth crewed mission.
The New Shepard spacecraft is scheduled to lift off on March 29, carrying Blue Origin employee Gary Lai and five paying customers: Marty Allen, married couple Sharon Hagle and Marc Hagle, Jim Kitchen and George Nield. As it is an automated system, no pilot will be on board.
New Shepard consists of a rocket and a capsule, both reusable. Each flight of the vehicle lasts approximately 11 minutes. Taking past webcasts as a guide, you should be able to see views of the rocket launching and landing, the capsule going into space, and potentially footage of the astronauts waving to people on the ground after the flight. .
The mission is known as NS-20 because it will be the 20th flight of a New Shepard vehicle. It is set for 9:30 a.m. EDT (1:30 p.m. GMT) from the company’s Launch Site One near Van Horn, Texas, weather permitting. Blue Origin will webcast the liftoff live, likely starting around an hour before launch. You can watch it here on Space.com, courtesy of Blue Origin, or directly through the company.
The flight plan calls for the rocket to land vertically shortly after liftoff and the crew capsule to descend independently under parachutes, arriving on Earth minutes after the booster.
New Shepard is named after Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American to reach space on May 5, 1961. (His daughter, Laura Shepard Churchley, flew on the New Shepard flight on October 13.)
New Shepard passengers are “weightless” in suborbital space for approximately three minutes during each mission. Blue Origin has yet to release seat pricing to the public; Competitor Virgin Galactic is currently selling seats for $450,000 each.
So, who are these new travelers?
Gary Lai, is the Principal and Chief System Architect of New Shepard, who joined Blue Origin in 2004 and was one of the company’s first 20 employees. (Jeff Bezos founded the company in 2000.) “His previous positions include Senior Director of Design Engineering, System Architect, Crew Capsule Element Manager, Commercial Crew Development Program Manager of NASA, Senior Systems Engineer and Head of Guidance with responsibility for advanced research and development,” Blue Origin representatives wrote in a mission description. “Gary has been involved in product development, strategic planning and business development for all Blue Origin product lines, including the New Glenn orbital launch vehicle, rocket engine programs and Blue Moon.”
Lai stepped in to replace actor Pete Davidson, who agreed to fly when the launch date was March 23 but had to pull out when he slipped six days.
George Nield, current president of Commercial Space Technologies, LLC , and former holder of various positions in the space industry. His resume includes Associate Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation and Director of the Flight Integration Office for NASA’s Space Shuttle Program. He also held positions at the Air Force Flight Test Center, Orbital Sciences Corp. (today, through mergers, part of Northrop Grumman) and the US Air Force Academy.
Sharon Hagle, founder of SpaceKids Global, created in 2015. The association aims to interest students, especially young girls, in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics). Among its various activities, SpaceKids Global sends postcards to space through Blue Origin’s nonprofit Club for the Future.
Marc Hagle, husband of Sharon and president and CEO of a real estate development company, Tricor International. The company has developed and owned more than 17.4 million square feet (1.6 million square meters) of properties across multiple industries, according to Blue Origin’s mission description. The Hagles are philanthropists for several charities in the arts, sciences, health and education. Incidentally, in 2013 they were the first purchasers of Virgin Galactic tickets, according to USA Today; it is not known if they are still planning a future flight with this company.
Marty Allen, angel investor and CEO of several companies. He oversaw Party America’s bankruptcy restructuring and helped transform it into a national retailer. He also led California Closet Company, a home organization business, to high sales and profits.
Jim Kitchen, entrepreneur and faculty member of the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina. He was reportedly inspired by watching the Apollo program rocket launches in Florida as a child. He also promoted space transportation in low Earth orbit for an unnamed startup in the 1980s and visited all 193 countries recognized by the United Nations, according to the Blue Origin mission description.