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Space Tourism: How Much Does it Cost & Who's Offering It?

Last Updated: December 17, 2022

Many of us dream of going to space and over 600 people have traveled to space as astronauts in government-funded agencies such as NASA, the European Space Agency, and Roscosmos. But how much does spaceflight cost in today and how is that expected to change in the coming years? 

With new advancements in spaceflight technology, the costs of space travel are decreasing, making the dream of spaceflight a little closer for us all.

Evolution of Spaceflight Costs and Technologies

During the space race, the cost of sending something into space averaged between $6,000 to over $25,000 per kg of weight not adjusted for inflation and NASA spent $28 billion to land astronauts on the moon, about $288 billion in today’s dollars.

In recent decades, it has averaged around $10,000 per kg though certain missions have been higher due to other factors including the destination, the size of the rocket, the amount of fuel needed, and the cost of fuel. 

After the retirement of the space shuttle program, NASA paid Russia to transport astronauts to the ISS at about $80 million per seat on the Soyuz rocket. NASA’s biggest and newest rocket, the SLS (Space Launch System) which is currently being utilized for the new moon missions including Artemis and Orion, currently costs about $2-4 billion per launch.

But recent years and the addition of private space companies have drastically changed the game. NASA allowed private space companies to develop equipment for missions, including a 2006 partnership with SpaceX under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to provide resupply for crew and cargo demonstration contracts to the International Space Station (ISS). 

This partnership has continued to flourish over the years with SpaceX successfully launching two NASA astronauts in May 2020 on a Crew Dragon Spacecraft, making SpaceX the first private company to send astronauts to the ISS and the first crewed orbital launch from American soil in 9 years.

With the revolutionary technology of reusable boosters from SpaceX, the cost has plummeted, achieving less than $1,600 per kg with the Falcon Heavy (still totaling more than $100 million per launch) and even a projected cost of under a thousand for their next generation model Star Ship.

 These recent innovations are even making SLS the more expensive, less efficient option if SpaceX’s projections continue to progress as expected within margins of error. We shall see how NASA plans to adapt goals in light of this.

falcon heavy taking off

The Falcon Heavy is a cost-effective option for launching payloads into space.

The rise of private space companies

With private space companies, the opportunity for civilians to book a trip to space similar to booking a flight came closer to reality. Dennis Tito was the first private citizen to pay for a trip to space with a trip to the ISS from April 28th to May 6th, 2001 for $20 million dollars. Tito purchased his experience through Space Adventures Inc. which was founded in 1998 and offers a variety of different space experiences. They even acquired Zero Gravity Corporation, NASA’s provider of Reduced Gravity Training (not in space) for its astronauts, in 2008. They offer similar experiences for private individuals starting at about $8,200 as of this publishing (December 2022).

Space Adventures sent seven other space tourists to the ISS through 2009, but due to a number of factors, Space Adventures had to put their ISS offerings on hold until 2021 when they were able to purchase two Soyuz seats due to NASA moving their contract to SpaceX. Space Adventures sent two people to the ISS via the Roscosmos Soyuz rocket in December 2021 and is working on expanding its offerings.

In addition to Elon Musk’s SpaceX, there are a number of other private space companies getting into the commercial spaceflight/ space tourism market, most notably Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origins.

Flight Providers & Rates

What are the current rates for commercial spaceflight tickets? What commercial spaceflight trips have already happened? All prices are per person/ per seat.

SpaceX has had the most experience in sending humans to space thanks to its partnership with NASA and Musk has made it clear that he wants to make space travel an option for the public. To date, SpaceX has offered two commercial spaceflight options and has one big one planned for the future:

  • SpaceX completed a Multi-Day Orbital Voyage, the first of their new plan to offer private astronaut experiences through their NASA partnership.  
  • Estimated $55 million for a 3-day stay inside a modified SpaceX Dragon capsule orbiting the Earth at 357 miles (574 km) with three crewmates, sponsored by billionaire Jared Isaacman to raise money for St Jude’s Children’s Hospital
  • Partnership between SpaceX and Houston-based Axiom Space Inc.
  • $55 million for a 10-day trip to ISS at 408 km with a weeklong (8-day) stay in the orbital lab. 
  • Expected to continue in 2023
  • Axiom plans to build a stand-alone space station to replace the ISS with the first module expected to launch in 2024.
  • Steve Aoki: American DJ and record producer
  • Everyday Astronaut Tim Dodd: American science communicator, content creator, photographer, and musician
  • Yemi A.D.: Czech choreographer, art director and performer
  • Rhiannon Adam: Irish photographer
  • Karim Iliya: British photographer and filmmaker
  • Brendan Hall: American filmmaker and photographer
  • Dev Joshi: Indian television actor
  • Choi Seung-hyun (stage name: T.O.P.): South Korean rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, and actor
  • Cost is unknown, likely a minimum of $500 million

2. Blue Origin

Blue Origin: currently offers a 100km 12-minute ride to the Karman Line, the recognized boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space; pricing is still unclear and dependent on a variety of factors 

  • On July 2021, Jeff and Mark Bezos went into space on the New Shepard rocket with Oliver Daemen (who won the trip through an auction bid of around 28 million) and honored guest Wally Funk (a member of Mercury 13, the private program in which women trained to be astronauts but ultimately never went to space)
  • Blue Origin has completed 6 commercial space flights as of this publishing. Some “honorable guests” have been invited free of charge, such as Funk and actor William Shatner (Captain Kirk from the original Star Trek). Some have been sponsored or have received special deals due to their nonprofit status.
  • $28 million winning auction bid for the first flight ( $19 million was donated)
  • $1 million for a board member of a nonprofit
  • About $1.25 for a Dude Perfect comedy group crew member, hosted by MoonDAO in August 2022

3. Virgin Galactic Subortbital Joy Ride

Virgin Galactic Subortbital Joy Ride: $450,000 for a 90-minute ride to suborbital space 50km above sea level 

  • In July 2021, founder Richard Branson flew to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere with two pilots and three other Virgin Galactic employees as the first test of commercial spaceflight for the company
  • Each VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo carries up to four passengers
  • Expected flights are currently anticipated to begin in 2023 
  • Includes training accommodations and amenities; launches from New Mexico

space trip ruc

4. Roscosmos/ Space Adventures Customized ISS Trip

Roscosmos/ Space Adventures Customized ISS Trip: $50-60million for a 12-day trip to the ISS at 408 km

  • In October 2021 an actress and director shot scenes for the first movie filmed in space
  • December 2021 Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and Yozo Hirano for two days (same billionaire planning to go to the moon with SpaceX)
  • With the current situation between Russia and Ukraine, this option is effectively nonexistent currently

5. Space Perspective

Space Perspective: a six-hour balloon ride to space/ the stratosphere on their “Spaceship Neptune” at $125,000

  • Rides are currently scheduled to begin by the end of 2024. 
  • A pressurized capsule will be slowly lifted by a football-field-sized hydrogen-filled balloon 19 miles (30 km) into the stratosphere, about 3 times the altitude of commercial planes. 
  • The passenger cabin features a bar, bathroom, and windows for sightseeing and is expected to carry 8 passengers and 1 pilot per trip.

6. Aurora Space Station (no longer in development)

Aurora Space Station was supposed to be the world’s first luxury space hotel, offering a 12-day stay for $9.5 million allowing them to free float, observe space and earth, practice hydroponics and play in a hologram deck, but they shut down operations and refunded all deposits in March 2021. They received a lot of media attention and therefore are noted here due to that notoriety.

Conclusion: the current cost of flying to space

Currently, it is only available to those who can spend an average of $250,000 to $500,000 for suborbital trips (about a fifteen-minute ride to the edge of space and back) or flights to actual orbit at more than $50 million per seat (though typically a longer trip than 15 minutes).

It could be free/ discounted if you can find a sponsor, often for nonprofit/ charity purposes, or if you are someone of notoriety that can help spread the company’s mission. 

Waitlists are available for most offerings, with a deposit, with many stretching years into the future, which might end up helping you have a spot at a more reasonable price in the future if you can save up.

Many companies are looking to provide extended stay options on private space stations in the future, similar to how you might book a flight somewhere and stay in a hotel for a few days. Again, for the immediate future, this is estimated to cost tens of millions of dollars. The biggest portion of the cost would be launching them, though it is still estimated that a couple million dollars will be needed to cover the expenses of your stay while you are on the space station, whether that is included in the ticket price or added on top of that.

Many companies are hopeful they can eventually price a trip to space down to $100,000 but that will likely take some time, even with the cost-saving measures of reusable boosters. Many forms of recent technology have evolved exponentially in recent years and with dropping price rates as well. Just as plane travel was originally prohibitively expensive, but has now become fairly reasonable for the average consumer, the hope is that the same will eventually happen with space tourism, but we will have to see how long that takes. 

While the possibility of going to space is still out of reach for many of us, hopefully, the advancements in recent years and those yet to come will help to continually lower the costs of going to space, just as has occurred in many other fields. This author, for one, truly hopes that the interest of the elite who are currently able to participate in these offerings will spur research and development, not just of space tourism but space exploration in general, to help fuel a quicker journey to space access for all

Sarah H.

Written by Sarah Hoffschwelle

Sarah Hoffschwelle is a freelance writer who covers a combination of topics including astronomy, general science and STEM, self-development, art, and societal commentary. In the past, Sarah worked in educational nonprofits providing free-choice learning experiences for audiences ages 2-99. As a lifelong space nerd, she loves sharing the universe with others through her words. She currently writes on Medium at  https://medium.com/@sarah-marie  and authors self-help and children’s books.

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The Future of Space Tourism Is Now. Well, Not Quite.

From zero-pressure balloon trips to astronaut boot camps, reservations for getting off the planet — or pretending to — are skyrocketing. The prices, however, are still out of this world.

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By Debra Kamin

Ilida Alvarez has dreamed of traveling to space since she was a child. But Ms. Alvarez, a legal-mediation firm owner, is afraid of flying, and she isn’t a billionaire — two facts that she was sure, until just a few weeks ago, would keep her fantasy as out of reach as the stars. She was wrong.

Ms. Alvarez, 46, and her husband, Rafael Landestoy, recently booked a flight on a 10-person pressurized capsule that — attached to a massive helium-filled balloon — will gently float to 100,000 feet while passengers sip champagne and recline in ergonomic chairs. The reservation required a $500 deposit; the flight itself will cost $50,000 and last six to 12 hours.

“I feel like it was tailor-made for the chickens like me who don’t want to get on a rocket,” said Ms. Alvarez, whose flight, organized by a company called World View , is scheduled to depart from the Grand Canyon in 2024.

Less than a year after Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson kicked off a commercial space race by blasting into the upper atmosphere within weeks of each other last summer, the global space tourism market is skyrocketing, with dozens of companies now offering reservations for everything from zero-pressure balloon trips to astronaut boot camps and simulated zero-gravity flights. But don’t don your spacesuit just yet. While the financial services company UBS estimates the space travel market will be worth $3 billion by 2030, the Federal Aviation Administration has yet to approve most out-of-this-world trips, and construction has not started on the first space hotel. And while access and options — not to mention launchpads — are burgeoning, space tourism remains astronomically expensive for most.

First, what counts as space travel?

Sixty miles (about 100 kilometers) above our heads lies the Kármán line, the widely accepted aeronautical boundary of the earth’s atmosphere. It’s the boundary used by the Féderátion Aéronautique Internationale, which certifies and controls global astronautical records. But many organizations in the United States, including the F.A.A. and NASA, define everything above 50 miles to be space.

Much of the attention has been focused on a trio of billionaire-led rocket companies: Mr. Bezos’ Blue Origin , whose passengers have included William Shatner; Mr. Branson’s Virgin Galactic , where tickets for a suborbital spaceflight start at $450,000; and Elon Musk’s SpaceX , which in September launched an all-civilian spaceflight, with no trained astronauts on board. Mr. Branson’s inaugural Virgin Galactic flight in 2021 reached about 53 miles, while Blue Origin flies above the 62-mile mark. Both are eclipsed by SpaceX, whose rockets charge far deeper in to the cosmos, reaching more than 120 miles above Earth.

Balloons, like those operated by World View, don’t go nearly as high. But even at their maximum altitude of 18 or 19 miles, operators say they float high enough to show travelers the curvature of the planet, and give them a chance to experience the overview effect — an intense perspective shift that many astronauts say kicks in when you view Earth from above.

Now, how to get there …

Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, which are both licensed for passenger space travel by the F.A.A., are open for ticket sales. (Blue Origin remains mum on pricing.) Both companies currently have hundreds or even thousands of earthlings on their wait lists for a whirl to the edge of space. SpaceX charges tens of millions of dollars for its further-reaching flights and is building a new facility in Texas that is currently under F.A.A. review.

Craig Curran is a major space enthusiast — he’s held a reserved seat on a Virgin Galactic flight since 2011 — and the owner of Deprez Travel in Rochester, N.Y. The travel agency has a special space travel arm, Galactic Experiences by Deprez , through which Mr. Curran sells everything from rocket launch tickets to astronaut training.

Sales in the space tourism space, Mr. Curran acknowledges, “are reasonably difficult to make,” and mostly come from peer-to-peer networking. “You can imagine that people who spend $450,000 to go to space probably operate in circles that are not the same as yours and mine,” he said.

Some of Mr. Curran’s most popular offerings include flights where you can experience the same stomach-dropping feeling of zero gravity that astronauts feel in space, which he arranges for clients via chartered, specialized Boeing 727s that are flown in parabolic arcs to mimic being in space. Operators including Zero G also offer the service; the cost is around $8,200.

You can almost count the number of completed space tourist launches on one hand — Blue Origin has had four; SpaceX, two. Virgin Galactic, meanwhile, on Thursday announced the launch of its commercial passenger service, previously scheduled for late 2022, was delayed until early 2023. Many of those on waiting lists are biding their time before blastoff by signing up for training. Axiom Space, which contracts with SpaceX, currently offers NASA-partnered training at Houston’s Johnson Space Center. Virgin Galactic, which already offers a “customized Future Astronaut Readiness program” at its Spaceport America facility in New Mexico, is also partnering with NASA to build a training program for private astronauts.

Would-be space tourists should not expect the rigor that NASA astronauts face. Training for Virgin Galactic’s three-hour trips is included in the cost of a ticket and lasts a handful of days; it includes pilot briefings and being “fitted for your bespoke Under Armour spacesuit and boots,” according to its website.

Not ready for a rocket? Balloon rides offer a less hair-raising celestial experience.

“We go to space at 12 miles an hour, which means that it’s very smooth and very gentle. You’re not rocketing away from earth,” said Jane Poynter, a co-founder and co-chief executive of Space Perspective , which is readying its own touristic balloon spaceship, Spaceship Neptune. If all goes according to plan, voyages are scheduled to begin departing from Florida in 2024, at a cost of $125,000 per person. That’s a fraction of the price tag for Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, but still more than double the average annual salary of an American worker.

Neither Space Perspective nor World View has the required approval yet from the F.A.A. to operate flights.

Unique implications

Whether a capsule or a rocket is your transport, the travel insurance company battleface launched a civilian space insurance plan in late 2021, a direct response, said chief executive Sasha Gainullin, to an increase in space tourism interest and infrastructure. Benefits include accidental death and permanent disablement in space and are valid for spaceflights on operators like SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, as well as on stratospheric balloon rides. They’ve had many inquiries, Mr. Gainullin said, but no purchases just yet.

“Right now it’s such high-net-worth individuals who are traveling to space, so they probably don’t need insurance,” he said. “But for quote-unquote regular travelers, I think we’ll see some takeups soon.”

And as the industry grows, so perhaps will space travel’s impact on the environment. Not only do rocket launches have immense carbon footprints, even some stratospheric balloon flights have potentially significant implications: World View’s balloons are powered by thousands of cubic meters of helium, which is a limited resource . But Ted Parson, a professor of environmental law at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that space travel’s environmental impact is still dwarfed by civil aviation. And because space travel is ultra-niche, he believes it’s likely to stay that way.

“Despite extensive projections, space tourism is likely to remain a tiny fraction of commercial space exploration,” he said. “It reminds me of tourism on Mt. Everest. It’s the indulgence of very rich people seeking a transcendent, once-in-a-lifetime experience, and the local environmental burden is intense.”

Stay a while?

In the future, space enthusiasts insist, travelers won’t be traveling to space just for the ride. They’ll want to stay a while. Orbital Assembly Corporation, a manufacturing company whose goal is to colonize space, is currently building the world’s first space hotels — two ring-shaped properties that will orbit Earth, called Pioneer Station and Voyager Station. The company, quite optimistically, projects an opening date of 2025 for Pioneer Station, with a capacity of 28 guests. The design for the larger Voyager Station , which they say will open in 2027, promises villas and suites, as well as a gym, restaurant and bar. Both provide the ultimate luxury: simulated gravity. Axiom Space , a space infrastructure company, is currently building the world’s first private space station; plans include Philippe Starck-designed accommodations for travelers to spend the night.

Joshua Bush, chief executive of travel agency Avenue Two Travel , has sold a handful of seats on upcoming Virgin Galactic flights to customers. The market for space travel (and the sky-high prices that come with it), he believes, will evolve much like civilian air travel did.

“In the beginning of the 20th century, only very affluent people could afford to fly,” he said. “Just as we have Spirit and Southwest Airlines today, there will be some sort of equivalent of that in space travel, too. Hopefully within my lifetime.”

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2021 has been a busy year for private space tourism: overall, more than 15 civilians took a trip to space during this year. In this article, you will learn more about the space tourism industry, its history, and the companies that are most likely to make you a space tourist.

What is space tourism?

Brief history of space tourism, space tourism companies, orbital and suborbital space flights, how much does it cost for a person to go to space, is space tourism worth it, can i become a space tourist, why is space tourism bad for the environment.

Space tourism is human space travel for recreational or leisure purposes . It’s divided into different types, including orbital, suborbital, and lunar space tourism.

However, there are broader definitions for space tourism. According to the Space Tourism Guide , space tourism is a commercial activity related to space that includes going to space as a tourist, watching a rocket launch, going stargazing, or traveling to a space-focused destination.

The first space tourist was Dennis Tito, an American multimillionaire, who spent nearly eight days onboard the International Space Station in April 2001. This trip cost him $20 million and made Tito the first private citizen who purchased his space ticket. Over the next eight years, six more private citizens followed Tito to the International Space Station to become space tourists.

As space tourism became a real thing, dozens of companies entered this industry hoping to capitalize on renewed public interest in space, including Blue Origin in 2000 and Virgin Galactic in 2004. In the 2000s, space tourists were limited to launches aboard Russian Soyuz aircraft and only could go to the ISS. However, everything changed when the other players started to grow up on the market. There are now a variety of destinations and companies for travels to space.

There are now six major space companies that are arranging or planning to arrange touristic flights to space:

  • Virgin Galactic;
  • Blue Origin;
  • Axiom Space;
  • Space Perspective.

While the first two are focused on suborbital flights, Axiom and Boeing are working on orbital missions. SpaceX, in its turn, is prioritizing lunar tourism in the future. For now, Elon Musk’s company has allowed its Crew Dragon spacecraft to be chartered for orbital flights, as it happened with the Inspiration4 3-day mission . Space Perspective is developing a different balloon-based system to carry customers to the stratosphere and is planning to start its commercial flights in 2024.

Orbital and suborbital flights are very different. Taking an orbital flight means staying in orbit; in other words, going around the planet continually at a very high speed to not fall back to the Earth. Such a trip takes several days, even a week or more. A suborbital flight in its turn is more like a space hop — you blast off, make a huge arc, and eventually fall back to the Earth, never making it into orbit. A flight duration, in this case, ranges from 2 to 3 hours.

Here is an example: a spaceflight takes you to an altitude of 100 km above the Earth. To enter into orbit — make an orbital flight — you would have to gain a speed of about 28,000 km per hour (17,400 mph) or more. But to reach the given altitude and fall back to the Earth — make a suborbital flight — you would have to fly at only 6,000 km per hour (3,700 mph). This flight takes less energy, less fuel; therefore, it is less expensive.

  • Virgin Galactic: $250,000 for a 2-hour suborbital flight at an altitude of 80 km;
  • Blue Origin: approximately $300,000 for 12 minutes suborbital flight at an altitude of 100 km;
  • Axiom Space: $55 million for a 10-day orbital flight;
  • Space Perspective: $125,000 for a 6-hour flight to the edge of space (32 km above the Earth).

The price depends, but remember that suborbital space flights are always cheaper.

What exactly do you expect from a journey to space? Besides the awesome impressions, here is what you can experience during such a trip:

  • Weightlessness . Keep in mind that during a suborbital flight you’ll get only a couple of minutes in weightlessness, but it will be truly fascinating .
  • Space sickness . The symptoms include cold sweating, malaise, loss of appetite, nausea, fatigue, and vomiting. Even experienced astronauts are not immune from it!
  • G-force . 1G is the acceleration we feel due to the force of gravity; a usual g-force astronauts experience during a rocket launch is around 3gs. To understand how a g-force influences people , watch this video.

For now, the most significant barrier for space tourism is price. But air travel was also once expensive; a one-way ticket cost more than half the price of a new car . Most likely, the price for space travel will reduce overtime as well. For now, you need to be either quite wealthy or win in a competition, as did Sian Proctor, a member of Inspiration4 mission . But before spending thousands of dollars on space travel, here is one more fact you might want to consider.

Rocket launches are harmful to the environment in general. During the burning of rocket fuels, rocket engines release harmful gases and soot particles (also known as black carbon) into the upper atmosphere, resulting in ozone depletion. Think about this: in 2018 black-carbon-producing rockets emitted about the same amount of black carbon as the global aviation industry emits annually.

However, not all space companies use black carbon for fuel. Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket has a liquid hydrogen-fuelled engine: hydrogen doesn’t emit carbon but simply turns into water vapor when burning.

The main reason why space tourism could be harmful to the environment is its potential popularity. With the rising amount of rocket launches the carbon footprint will only increase — Virgin Galactic alone aims to launch 400 of these flights annually. Meanwhile, the soot released by 1,000 space tourism flights could warm Antarctica by nearly 1°C !

Would you want to become a space tourist? Let us know your opinion on social media and share the article with your friends, if you enjoyed it! Also, the Best Mobile App Awards 2021 is going on right now, and we would very much appreciate it if you would vote for our Sky Tonight app . Simply tap "Vote for this app" in the upper part of the screen. No registration is required!

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NASA and Boeing’s Starliner delays expose the challenges of space travel

By Briley Lewis

Posted on May 22, 2024 10:00 AM EDT

6 minute read

NASA and Boeing have previously targeted a launch on May 25th, but the launch date has since been delayed once more, with the next opportunity to launch 'still being discussed.' NASA

Getting stuck in an airport for a flight delayed a few hours is bad, but two NASA astronauts currently have it much worse. At this point, their ride to the International Space Station aboard Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft has been delayed nearly three weeks. 

Starliner, one of two crewed spaceflight projects contracted by NASA from commercial companies, was originally scheduled for its first test flight with humans aboard on May 6th. But, issues with a faulty fuel valve and an unrelated helium leak led to mission management repeatedly nudging back the launch date. NASA and Boeing have previously targeted a launch on May 25th , but the launch date has since been delayed once more. The opportunity to launch was “still being discussed” on May 22, but as of May 23, it is now projected for June 1 . A successful flight would open the door for Starliner to become NASA’s second reliable launch vehicle in addition to SpaceX’s Dragon crew capsule, an important milestone in humanity’s return to crewed space exploration—that is, if Starliner can overcome its technical issues.

Although NASA did everything—from rocket launches to spacesuits and beyond—in-house during the space race of the 60s and 70s , they’ve worked closely with up-and-coming aerospace companies in the 21st century, creating a new paradigm for spaceflight known as the NASA Commercial Crew Program . 

In 2014, NASA contracted both Boeing and SpaceX to develop and deliver rockets and crew capsules to safely transport astronauts into low Earth orbit and beyond, investing over six billion dollars in this endeavor. For decades since the end of the Space Shuttle program, American astronauts have relied on international partners to get them where they need to go, such as with the Russian Soyuz capsule that frequently travels to the International Space Station (ISS). Enlisting both Boeing and SpaceX makes sure that NASA will have a way to get people to space without relying on international help, even if one of the companies’ systems fails or becomes unavailable for any reason.

“NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with the American aerospace industry to launch astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil to the International Space Station,” explains Leah Cheshier , public affairs officer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center . “The goal of the program is to provide safe, reliable, and cost-effective transportation to and from the orbiting laboratory [the ISS], which allows for additional research time and increases the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration. This innovative approach also helps the agency maintain a human presence in low Earth orbit and enable exploration to the Moon in preparation for Mars for the benefit of humanity.”

Outsourcing some of the work to external agencies also frees up NASA to focus on its even more ambitious projects. “With the ability to purchase astronaut transportation from commercial companies as a service on a fixed-price contract, NASA can use resources to put the first woman, first person of color, and the first international partner on the Moon as a part of our Artemis missions in preparation for human missions to Mars,” adds Cheshier.

SpaceX’s Dragon already completed its test flights back in 2020 on the company’s Falcon rockets , making it the first commercial spacecraft to successfully complete such a feat, and it has been successfully carrying astronauts to and from the ISS since. Boeing’s Starliner, on the other hand, has faced some major challenges and setbacks. 

Both spacecraft are small habitats that sit atop a rocket (either the Falcon, or in Boeing’s case, the Atlas V from partner company ULA ), protecting astronauts from the forces and dangers of riding on a massive rocket to the unwelcoming environment of outer space. These capsules are both around the size of a hefty SUV, designed to hold up to seven astronauts maximum and dock with the ISS. They’re also equipped with parachutes to glide their passengers to a safe landing back on Earth.

Starliner completed its uncrewed test flights back in 2021 and 2022, albeit with some hiccups. The first uncrewed test in orbit around Earth experienced some software issues , preventing the capsule from reaching the ISS at all. Problems with small mechanical parts like valves plagued the project in 2021, and even its successful run through in 2022 revealed additional things that needed fixing.

With those bugs hopefully squashed, Starliner is now about to launch its first crewed test, featuring astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Sunita “Suni” Williams —both experienced navy pilots who have already taken some trips to the ISS and completed a collective 400-plus days in space. They’re planned to take a 24-hour ride to the station, stay aboard for a week to complete some additional tests on the capsule, and then return to Earth with a landing somewhere in the Western U.S. 

The goals of this test flight are basically to make sure everything works as expected: spacesuits, life support systems, thrusters, docking hardware, communications, astronaut seats and safety features, landing parachutes, you name it. They’ll also do a specific test aboard the ISS to prove the capsule could be used as a “safe haven” in the event of a catastrophe aboard the ISS (although the space station is a pretty darn safe place to be , at least if Earth’s not an option at the moment).

Unfortunately, all those goals are currently on pause as the mission team tries to iron out the remaining kinks. Starliner was first delayed due to a faulty valve on a liquid oxygen fuel tank , and then soon after that valve was replaced, delayed again due to a helium leak in another part of the craft. Just a few days ago, NASA announced in a press release that they “will take additional time to work through spacecraft closeout processes and flight rationale,” which “allows teams to further assess a small helium leak in the Boeing Starliner spacecraft’s service module.”

On the surface, it may seem strange that such a giant company, with years of research and development already poured into this project, would have so many complications. But, that leaves out one key piece of information: space travel is just really, really hard to do. Every system being created for this kind of exploration is nearly the first of its kind, and when human lives are on the line, we want to be as sure as possible that everything is perfect and going to plan before sending them on this dangerous journey. 

Compared to the tens of human spaceflight missions we’ve completed, there are billions of cars on Earth, tens of thousands of aircraft created by humans—and even with these well-tested, commonplace technologies, things often go wrong. We all know the experience of your car’s check engine light going off when you least expect it. Now imagine that light goes on when you’re days away from a mechanic, and you can’t leave your vehicle even if it catches on fire. That’s space travel.

As in the famous Kennedy speech from the Apollo days, we try to do things in space “not only because they are easy, but because they are hard.” The Atlas V rocket for NASA’s current hard-to-do thing is still on the launch pad, and Wilmore and Williams are ready to go when Starliner is ready. As with most NASA milestones, you can tune in to watch it yourself on NASA’s YouTube and other streaming channels . When this launch happens, it will be another momentous step in establishing our presence beyond our planet, paving the way for the first non-test flight of Starliner-1 in 2025 and Boeing’s certification as a reliable launch provider for NASA’s future endeavors to the ISS, the Moon and maybe even beyond.

Update May 22, 2024 11:00 AM: Another delay to the mission has been noted above.

Update May 23, 2024 8:13 AM: A new projected launch date has been noted above.

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Everything you need to know about space travel (almost)

We're a long way from home...

Paul Parsons

When did we first start exploring space?

The first human-made object to go into space was a German V2 missile , launched on a test flight in 1942. Although uncrewed, it reached an altitude of 189km (117 miles).

Former Nazi rocket scientists were later recruited by both America and Russia (often at gunpoint in the latter case), where they were instrumental in developing Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) – rockets capable of carrying nuclear weapons from one side of the planet to the other.

A captured German V-2 rocket, the world’s first guided missile, launched at the US Army testing base at White Sands, in New Mexico © Getty Images

It was these super-missiles that formed the basis for the space programmes of both post-war superpowers. As it happened, Russia was the first to reach Earth orbit, when it launched the uncrewed Sputnik 1 in October 1957, followed a month later by Sputnik 2, carrying the dog Laika – the first live animal in space.

The USA sent its first uncrewed satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit soon after, in January 1958. A slew of robotic spaceflights followed, from both sides of the Atlantic, before Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin piloted Vostok 1 into orbit on 12 April 1961, to become the first human being in space . And from there the space race proper began, culminating in Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin becoming the first people to walk on the Moon as part of NASA's Apollo programme .

Why is space travel important?

Space exploration is the future. It satisfies the human urge to explore and to travel, and in the years and decades to come it could even provide our species with new places to call home – especially relevant now, as Earth becomes increasingly crowded .

Extending our reach into space is also necessary for the advancement of science. Space telescopes like the Hubble Space Telescope and probes to the distant worlds of the Solar System are continually updating, and occasionally revolutionising, our understanding of astronomy and physics.

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But there are also some very practical reasons, such as mining asteroids for materials that are extremely rare here on Earth.

One example is the huge reserve of the chemical isotope helium-3 thought to be locked away in the soil on the surface of the Moon . This isotope is a potential fuel for future nuclear fusion reactors – power stations that tap into the same source of energy as the Sun. Unlike other fusion fuels, helium-3 gives off no hard-to-contain and deadly neutron radiation.

However, for this to happen the first challenge to overcome is how to build a base on the Moon. In 2019, China's Chang’e 4 mission marked the beginning of a new space race to conquer the Moon, signalling their intent to build a permanent lunar base , while the NASA Artemis mission plans to build a space station, called Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway , providing a platform to ferry astronauts to the Moon's surface.

Could humans travel into interstellar space and how would we get there?

It’s entirely feasible that human explorers will visit the furthest reaches of our Solar System. The stars, however, are another matter. Interstellar space is so vast that it takes light – the fastest thing we know of in the Universe – years, centuries and millennia to traverse it. Faster-than-light travel may be possible one day, but is unlikely to become a reality in our lifetimes.

It’s not impossible that humans might one day cross this cosmic gulf, though it won’t be easy. The combustion-powered rocket engines of today certainly aren’t up to the job – they just don’t use fuel efficiently enough. Instead, interstellar spacecraft may create a rocket-like propulsion jet using electric and magnetic fields. This so-called ‘ ion drive ’ technology has already been tested aboard uncrewed Solar System probes.

Star Trek's USS Enterprise, the iconic warp-capable ship © Alamy

Another possibility is to push spacecraft off towards the stars using the light from a high-powered laser . A consortium of scientists calling themselves Breakthrough Starshot is already planning to send a flotilla of tiny robotic probes to our nearest star, Proxima Centauri, using just this method.

Though whether human astronauts could survive such punishing acceleration, or the decades-long journey through deep space, remains to be seen.

How do we benefit from space exploration?

Pushing forward the frontiers of science is the stated goal of many space missions . But even the development of space travel technology itself can lead to unintended yet beneficial ‘spin-off’ technologies with some very down-to-earth applications.

Notable spin-offs from the US space programme, NASA, include memory foam mattresses, artificial hearts, and the lubricant spray WD-40. Doubtless, there are many more to come.

Read more about space exploration:

  • The next giant leaps: The UK missions getting us to the Moon
  • Move over, Mars: why we should look further afield for future human colonies
  • Everything you need to know about the Voyager mission
  • 6 out-of-this-world experiments recreating space on Earth

Space exploration also instils a sense of wonder, it reminds us that there are issues beyond our humdrum planet and its petty squabbles, and without doubt it helps to inspire each new generation of young scientists. It’s also an insurance policy. We’re now all too aware that global calamities can and do happen – for instance, climate change and the giant asteroid that smashed into the Earth 65 million years ago, leading to the total extinction of the dinosaurs .

The lesson for the human species is that we keep all our eggs in one basket at our peril. On the other hand, a healthy space programme, and the means to travel to other worlds, gives us an out.

Is space travel dangerous?

In short, yes – very. Reaching orbit means accelerating up to around 28,000kph (17,000mph, or 22 times the speed of sound ). If anything goes wrong at that speed, it’s seldom good news.

Then there’s the growing cloud of space junk to contend with in Earth's orbit – defunct satellites, discarded rocket stages and other detritus – all moving just as fast. A five-gram bolt hitting at orbital speed packs as much energy as a 200kg weight dropped from the top of an 18-storey building.

Sandra Bullock repairs the Hubble Telescope with George Clooney in Gravity © Warner Brothers

And getting to space is just the start of the danger. The principal hazard once there is cancer-producing radiation – the typical dose from one day in space is equivalent to what you’d receive over an entire year back on Earth, thanks to the planet’s atmosphere and protective magnetic field.

Add to that the icy cold airless vacuum , the need to bring all your own food and water, plus the effects of long-duration weightlessness on bone density, the brain and muscular condition – including that of the heart – and it soon becomes clear that venturing into space really isn’t for the faint-hearted.

When will space travel be available to everyone?

It’s already happening – that is, assuming your pockets are deep enough. The first self-funded ‘space tourist’ was US businessman Dennis Tito, who in 2001 spent a week aboard the International Space Station (ISS) for the cool sum of $20m (£15m).

Virgin Galactic has long been promising to take customers on short sub-orbital hops into space – where passengers get to experience rocket propulsion and several minutes of weightlessness, before gliding back to a runway landing on Earth, all for $250k (£190k). In late July 2020, the company unveiled the finished cabin in its SpaceShipTwo vehicle, suggesting that commercial spaceflights may begin shortly.

SpaceX expect that one day their Starship could carry passengers to the Moon © SpaceX/Flickr

Meanwhile, Elon Musk’s SpaceX , which in May 2020 became the first private company to launch a human crew to Earth orbit aboard the Crew Dragon , plans to offer stays on the ISS for $35k (£27k) per night. SpaceX is now prototyping its huge Starship vehicle , which is designed to take 100 passengers from Earth to as far afield as Mars for around $20k (£15k) per head. Musk stated in January that he hoped to be operating 1,000 Starships by 2050.

10 Short Lessons in Space Travel by Paul Parsons is out now (£9.99, Michael O'Mara)

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Ed Dwight, America’s first Black astronaut candidate, finally goes to space 60 years later

America’s first Black astronaut candidate has finally made it to space 60 years later, flying with Jeff Bezos’ rocket company. Ninety-year-old Ed Dwight blasted off from West Texas with five other passengers on Sunday. Dwight was an Air Force pilot when President John F. Kennedy championed him as a NASA astronaut candidate. But he wasn’t picked.

FILE - Former NASA astronaut Ed Dwight poses for a portrait to promote the National Geographic documentary film "The Space Race" during the Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, at The Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, Calif. America's first Black astronaut candidate has finally made it to space 60 years later, flying with Jeff Bezos’ rocket company. Ninety-year-old Dwight blasted off from West Texas with five other passengers on Sunday, May 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

FILE - Former NASA astronaut Ed Dwight poses for a portrait to promote the National Geographic documentary film “The Space Race” during the Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, at The Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, Calif. America’s first Black astronaut candidate has finally made it to space 60 years later, flying with Jeff Bezos’ rocket company. Ninety-year-old Dwight blasted off from West Texas with five other passengers on Sunday, May 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

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VAN HORN, Texas (AP) — Ed Dwight , America’s first Black astronaut candidate, finally rocketed into space 60 years later, flying with Jeff Bezos’ rocket company on Sunday.

Dwight was an Air Force pilot when President John F. Kennedy championed him as a candidate for NASA’s early astronaut corps. But he wasn’t picked for the 1963 class.

Dwight, now 90, went through a few minutes of weightlessness with five other passengers aboard the Blue Origin capsule as it skimmed space on a roughly 10-minute flight. He called it “a life changing experience.”

“I thought I really didn’t need this in my life,” Dwight said shortly after exiting the capsule. ”But, now, I need it in my life .... I am ecstatic.”

The brief flight from West Texas made Dwight the new record-holder for oldest person in space — nearly two months older than “Star Trek” actor William Shatner was when he went up in 2021.

It was Blue Origin’s first crew launch in nearly two years. The company was grounded following a 2022 accident in which the booster came crashing down but the capsule full of experiments safely parachuted to the ground. Flights resumed last December, but with no one aboard. This was Blue Origin’s seventh time flying space tourists.

FILE - Boeing's Starliner capsule atop an Atlas V rocket is seen at Space Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station a day after its mission to the International Space Station was scrubbed because of an issue with a pressure regulation valve, Tuesday, May 7, 2024, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Boeing is now aiming for its first astronaut launch at the beginning of June. Officials for the company and NASA said Friday, May 24, that weeks of review show that the capsule can safely fly with two test pilots, despite a small propulsion system leak.(AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

Dwight, a sculptor from Denver, was joined by four business entrepreneurs from the U.S. and France and a retired accountant. Their ticket prices were not disclosed; Dwight’s seat was sponsored in part by the nonprofit Space for Humanity.

Dwight was among the potential astronauts the Air Force recommended to NASA. But he wasn’t chosen for the 1963 class, which included eventual Gemini and Apollo astronauts, including Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. NASA didn’t select Black astronauts until 1978, and Guion Bluford became the first African American in space in 1983. Three years earlier, the Soviets launched the first Black astronaut, Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez, a Cuban of African descent.

After leaving the military in 1966, Dwight joined IBM and started a construction company before earning a master’s degree in sculpture in the late 1970s. He’s since dedicated himself to art. His sculptures focus on Black history and include memorials and monuments across the country. Several of his sculptures have flown into space.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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To partake in this extraordinary adventure, passengers need to be in sound health and physical condition, be able to handle the rigors of launch, re-entry forces, and potential lunar gravity if partaking in our Moon base program. Individual requirements may vary depending on the specific mission.

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Safety is our utmost priority. All spacecraft undergo meticulous testing and regular maintenance. Passengers are trained thoroughly in safety procedures and are always accompanied by seasoned astronauts. We comply with all international standards for space travel.

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All passengers must complete a pre-flight training regimen that includes physical fitness, safety protocols, understanding spacecraft operations, and emergency preparedness. The content and duration of training depend on mission specifics

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Flyby tours explore low Earth orbit around 100 kilometers (62 miles) above the Earth’s surface. The lunar tours travel approximately 385,000 kilometers (239,000 miles) to our Moon base, while the asteroid tours or other planetary flybys journey even further into space to our staging hubs and beyond

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Ed Dwight, first African American candidate for space travel, takes off 60 years later

Ed Dwight, who 60 years ago became the United States' first black candidate for space travel, has finally taken off.

Mr Dwight was a US Air Force pilot when then-president John F Kennedy championed him as a candidate for NASA's early astronaut corps.

However, he was not picked for the 1963 class, which included eventual Gemini and Apollo astronauts, including Apollo 11's Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.

NASA did not select black astronauts until 1978, and Guion Bluford became the first African American in space in 1983.

Three years earlier, the Soviets launched the first black astronaut, Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez, a Cuban of African descent.

On Sunday, however, Mr Dwight, now 90, finally reached space.

He experienced a few minutes of weightlessness with five other passengers aboard the Blue Origin capsule as it skimmed space on a roughly 10-minute flight.

He called it "a life-changing experience".

A man smiling wearing a black jacket.

"I thought I really didn't need this in my life," Mr Dwight said shortly after exiting the capsule.

"But now I need it in my life … I am ecstatic."

The brief flight from west Texas made Mr Dwight the new record-holder for oldest person in space — nearly two months older than Star Trek actor William Shatner was when he went up in 2021.

It also marked Blue Origin's first crewed launch in nearly two years.

The company was grounded following a 2022 accident in which the booster came crashing down but the capsule full of experiments safely parachuted to the ground. Flights resumed last December, but with no-one aboard.

This was Blue Origin's seventh time flying space tourists.

Mr Dwight, a sculptor from Denver, was joined by four business entrepreneurs from the US and France and a retired accountant.

Their ticket prices were not disclosed. Mr Dwight's seat was sponsored in part by the non-profit organisation Space for Humanity.

After leaving the military in 1966, Mr Dwight joined IBM and started a construction company before earning a master's degree in sculpture in the late 1970s.

He has since dedicated himself to art. His sculptures focus on African American history and include memorials and monuments across the United States. Several of his sculptures have flown into space.

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At age 90, America's first Black astronaut candidate has finally made it to space

Scott Neuman

space trip ruc

Ed Dwight poses for a portrait to promote the National Geographic documentary film "The Space Race" during the Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour, Thursday, in February. Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP hide caption

Ed Dwight poses for a portrait to promote the National Geographic documentary film "The Space Race" during the Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour, Thursday, in February.

Ed Dwight, the man who six decades ago nearly became America's first Black astronaut, made his first trip into space at age 90 on Sunday along with five crewmates aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket.

The liftoff from a West Texas launch site marked the first passenger flight in nearly two years for the commercial space venture run by billionaire Jeff Bezos. The approximately 10-minute suborbital flight put Dwight in the history books as the oldest person ever to reach space. He beat out Star Trek actor William Shatner for that honor by just a few months. Shatner was a few months younger when he went up on a New Shepard rocket in 2021.

He missed a chance to be the first Black astronaut. Now, at 90, he's going into space

He missed a chance to be the first Black astronaut. Now, at 90, he's going into space

Dwight shared the capsule with Mason Angel, a venture capitalist; Sylvain Chiron, the founder of a French craft brewery; entrepreneur Kenneth Hess; aviator Gopi Thotakura and Carol Schaller, a retired accountant.

The rocket reached more than 347,000 feet, crossing the 330,000 foot high Kármán line, the imaginary line that denotes the boundary of space. They experienced a few brief moments of weightlessness.

Soon after, the New Shepard booster touched down in a cloud of dust near the launch site. The crew capsule landed under two of its three parachutes, with one redundant chute failing to fully deploy.

Emerging from the capsule, a beaming Dwight shook two fists in the air in triumph.

"Fantastic! A life-changing experience. Everyone needs to do this!" he remarked. "I didn't know I needed this in my life, but now I need it in my life."

He said the separation of the rocket and the capsule was "more dynamic" than he'd anticipated.

The 1st Black Woman To Pilot A Spacecraft Says Seeing Earth Was The Best Part

The 1st Black Woman To Pilot A Spacecraft Says Seeing Earth Was The Best Part

In the 1960s, Dwight, an Air Force captain, was fast tracked for space flight after then-President John F. Kennedy asked for a Black astronaut. Despite graduating in the top half of a test pilot school, Dwight was subsequently passed over for selection as an astronaut, a story he detailed in his autobiography, Soaring On The Wings Of A Dream: The Untold Story of America's First Black Astronaut Candidate.

After leaving the Air Force, Dwight went on to become a celebrated sculptor, specializing in creating likenesses of historic African American figures.

Speaking with NPR by phone a few hours after Sunday's launch, Dwight said, "I've got bragging rights now."

"All these years, I've been called an astronaut," Dwight said, but "now I have a little [astronaut] pin, which is ... a totally different matter."

He said he'd been up to 80,000 feet in test flights during his Air Force career, but at four times that altitude aboard New Shepard, the curvature of the Earth was more pronounced. "That line between the atmosphere and space. It was like somebody pulled the curtains down over the windows," he said.

The cost of Dwight's ticket is being shared among Blue Origin, Space for Humanity and the Jaison and Jamie Robinson Family Foundation . (Jaison Robinson, who flew on a previous Blue Origin flight, is on the NPR Foundation Board of Trustees.)

The first crewed New Shepard flight was launched in July 2020 and included Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, pilot Wally Funk and 18-year-old Dutch citizen Oliver Daemen, who was, at the time of launch, the youngest person ever to go into space.

Dwight told NPR he was ready to go again. "I want to go into orbit. I want to go around the Earth and see the whole Earth. That's what I want to do now."

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A potentially habitable Earth-size planet was discovered just 40 light-years away

Gliese 12 b, which orbits a cool, red dwarf star located just 40 light-years away, promises to tell astronomers more about how planets close to their stars retain or lose their atmospheres. In this artist’s concept, Gliese 12 b is shown retaining a thin atmosphere.

A potentially habitable exoplanet that is roughly similar in size to Earth has been found in a system located 40 light-years away, according to a new study.

The planet is about the size of Venus, so slightly smaller than Earth, and may be temperate enough to support life, the researchers said.

Dubbed Gliese 12 b, the planet takes 12.8 days to orbit a star that is 27% of the sun’s size. It’s not yet known whether the exoplanet has an atmosphere.

But the scientists behind the study, published Thursday in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society , estimated that Gliese 12 b has a surface temperature of about 107 degrees Fahrenheit (42 degrees Celsius). While hot, that temperature is lower than most of the thousands of exoplanets discovered to date.

“Gliese 12 b could be at the right temperature for liquid water to pool on its surface, and that’s important because we tend to think liquid water is an essential ingredient for life as we know it,” Shishir Dholakia, one of the study’s authors and a doctoral student at the University of Southern Queensland’s Centre for Astrophysics, said in a statement .

The researchers are keen to get a closer look at the exoplanet, including with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope , which launched into space in 2021 and is equipped with a sophisticated suite of instruments capable of studying exoplanet atmospheres .

The scientists want to determine if the planet has an atmosphere similar to that on Earth, or whether its atmosphere is as extreme and hostile as that on Venus. Alternately, Gliese 12 b could have no atmosphere at all, or one that is unfamiliar and not seen in our own solar system, they said.

The findings could help researchers better understand the factors that make exoplanets potentially habitable. The observations may also shed light on how our own solar system evolved.

“Because Gliese 12 b is between Earth and Venus in temperature, its atmosphere could teach us a lot about the habitability pathways planets take as they develop,” study co-author Larissa Palethorpe, a doctoral student at the University of Edinburgh and University College London, said in a statement .

Gliese 12 b was discovered using data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite , which is designed to stare at a huge patch of the sky for about a month at a time. The space telescope, which launched into space in 2018, looks for periodic changes in brightness of tens of thousands of stars.

If a star dims at regular intervals, it may be a sign that a planet is orbiting the star, passing in front of it and temporarily obscuring its light.

space trip ruc

Denise Chow is a reporter for NBC News Science focused on general science and climate change.

New Shepard is ushering in a new generation of astronauts.

Soar Above the Kármán Line

Return to Earth, Forever Changed

New Shepard astronauts ascend toward space at more than three times the speed of sound. They pass the Kármán line, the internationally recognized boundary of space 62 miles (100 km) above Earth, before unbuckling to float weightless and gaze at our planet. The crew returns gently under parachutes, forever changed.

Inside the Capsule

Every Seat is a Window Seat

Gaze upon Earth from giant windows comprising one-third of the capsule’s surface area. The spacious and pressurized capsule seats six and is climate-controlled for comfort.

Learn, Train, Fly

Time to Train

Our on-site astronaut training program is meticulously designed to teach everything you’ll need to know for a safe spaceflight. Over two days, you’ll learn about New Shepard’s mission profile, safety systems, zero-g protocols, and execute mission simulations.

Welcome to West Texas

The Pioneering Spirit of Launch Site One

Spectacular sunrises, sunsets, and stargazing abound at Launch Site One, nestled in the Guadalupe Mountains near Van Horn, TX. You and your crew will stay at Astronaut Village, cultivating fellowship and memories to last a lifetime.

For the Benefit of Earth

Fully Reusable and Carbon-Free

Nearly 99% of New Shepard’s dry mass is reused, including its capsule, booster, and engine. During flight, the only byproduct of New Shepard’s engine combustion is water vapor with no carbon emissions.

Safety at the Center

Safety, Our Highest Priority

New Shepard began flying humans in 2021 following the conclusion of a rigorous flight test program. The crew capsule has numerous redundant safety systems. Its crew escape system has been successfully tested three times, demonstrating that it can activate safely during any phase of flight.

Join a new generation of astronauts.

© 2007 - 2023 Blue Origin, All Rights Reserved.

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90-Year-Old Black Astronaut ‘Ecstatic’ About First Space Trip After Being Passed Over Decades Ago

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Black Pioneers

Source: The Washington Post / Getty

A merica’s first Black astronaut candidate has finally fulfilled his lifelong dream to travel to space.

According to AP , Ed Dwight rocketed into space with Jeff Bezos’ rocket company for the first time on Sunday, since becoming a candidate for NASA’s early astronaut corp in the early 1960s.  

Dwight served as an Air Force pilot until President John F. Kennedy co-signed him to be the first Black astronaut to travel to space, but unfortunately, he wasn’t picked.  

The 90-year-old astronaut and five other passengers traveled through space for about 10 minutes in the Blue Origin capsule, the spaceship’s seventh time flying flying tourists.  

After the trip, Dwight called it, “Fantastic! A life-changing experience. Everyone needs to do this!”

“I thought I really didn’t need this in my life,” Dwight said shortly after exiting the capsule. ”But, now, I need it in my life …. I am ecstatic.”

He also became the oldest person to ever travel to space, beating Star Trek’s William Shatner, who went up to space in 2021, but two months.  

Ed Dwight’s inspirational story is a testament to his unmatched resilience and tenacity towards his goals.  

Dwight was born in Kansas City, Kansas in 1933. Since the day he was born, Dwight always wanted to fly. At the age of 4, he built his first toy airplane out of orange crates from his backyard. In 1953, Dwight enlisted in the United States Air Force where he would eventually earn the rank of captain.

In the 1960s, Dwight, an Air Force captain, was fast-tracked for space flight after then-President John F. Kennedy asked for a Black astronaut. Despite graduating in the top half of a test pilot school, Dwight was subsequently passed over for selection as an astronaut, a story he detailed in his autobiography, Soaring On The Wings Of A Dream: The Untold Story of America’s First Black Astronaut Candidate.

Astronaut Ed Dwight

Source: Bettmann / Getty

From the Air Force to NASA, Dwight stood next to American heroes like Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, but since Black astronauts weren’t allowed in the program until 1978, Dwight patiently waited his turn.  

In 1983, Guion Bluford became the first Black American to travel to space and three years later, Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez, traveled to space with the Soviets.  

Dwight told NPR   that he hopes this isn’t the last trip to space for him.

“I want to go into orbit,” said Dwight. “I want to go around the Earth and see the whole Earth. That’s what I want to do now.”

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He booked a ticket for a Virgin Galactic flight to space. The trip left him speechless.

Ron rosano stands among a select few civilians who have reached the stars aboard a virgin galactic spacecraft after the company began offering regular commercial flights in august..

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As Neil Armstrong took humanity's first steps on the moon in 1969, an eager 9-year-old Ron Rosano watched from 238,900 miles away while vacationing with his parents in California.

Glued to the small television screen in the common area at a mountainous resort, Rosano watched a news broadcast as the Apollo 11 landed on the moon and Armstrong later stepped out of the lunar module to walk on its surface.

Even then, the historic moment left an indelible mark on a boy who would spend his life gazing up at the skies, wishing he could himself transcend his earthly bonds and exist among the cosmos .

“To see that and then go outside and look up at the moon and think to myself, 'Wow there’s two guys walking up around there, how did that happen?'” Rosano said, "That’s been a huge inspiration throughout my life.”

But Rosano never really thought that venturing to space was within reach. After all, hadn't Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and the multitude of U.S. astronauts since trained extensively before exploring the final frontier?

In 2004, those possibilities changed when Rosano heard that Virgin Galactic , the spaceflight company founded by billionaire Richard Branson, was selling tickets to space for regular civilians with deep pockets. He booked his own cosmic passage in 2010, recognizing that even though his journey to space was likely still years away, it sure beat never.

Rosano now stands among a select few civilians who have reached the stars aboard a Virgin Galactic spacecraft after the company began offering regular commercial flights in August. The flight window for Virgin Galactic's sixth commercial spaceflight opens Friday .

“For most of my life, it was always military test pilots or incredibly high achievers in medicine and science," Rosano told USA TODAY in a phone interview from his home in Muir Beach, Calif. "It's the dream of a lifetime."

Peregrine lunar lander: Navajo Nation 'relieved' human remains didn't make it to the moon. Celestis vows to try again.

Rosano recalls gazing at Earth from Virgin Galactic craft

After more than a decade of waiting, Rosano finally got his chance to journey to the edge of space last year at 63 years old.

Rosano, who co-owns and manages his family’s property management company, launched in October aboard "Galactic 04." Once Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo reached 54 miles above Earth’s surface, Rosano and two other customers spent a few weightless minutes marveling at our planet from a vantage point few get to experience.

Prior to liftoff, Rosano and the others spent three days training in New Mexico to familiarize themselves with zero gravity movement and the equipment they’d be wearing.

But nothing could prepare him for the transformative moments that awaited him in low-Earth orbit, which is exactly what Rosano had longed for.

“Let the experience bring to you whatever it may bring,” Rosano said he told himself. “You don’t know what you’re going to take out of it.”

Once in space, Rosano gazed upon mountain rages, white sands and the thin blue line of Earth’s atmosphere. In that moment, Rosano was struck by the realization that all living beings exist within that line, which is all that stands between life on earth and the cold dark void of the universe.

"I knew it was there, I've talked to astronauts and that’s always one of the most popular things you see, but still I was just transfixed by it," Rosano said, "It’s a vibrant, vivid electric blue that’s got a sense of aliveness in it.”

As for seeing Earth from afar, Rosano was quite literally at a loss for words: "It’s really kind of indescribable,” he said.

The entire trip took a little more than an hour before the spaceship landed like a regular aircraft at SpacePort America in the New Mexico desert. Once back on the ground, Rosano was greeted by his wife and the five children they have from previous marriages, all of whom were there to support him.

The dawn of the commercial space age

Virgin Galactic's ticketed flights helped usher in the dawn of the commercial space age in 2023 when the company finally began offering its long-awaited flights.

Tickets were $200,000 when Rosano purchased his in 2010 for a flight aboard one of Branson's rockets, but have since climbed to $450,000 .

The company, as well as its competitors like Blue Origin, are expected to continue selling tickets to wealthy customers who crave the experience of a few minutes of weightlessness – coupled with a view of Earth that can't be beat.

While Virgin Galactic's sixth civilian customer mission is expected this month, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin  will likely resume civilian flights at some point in 2024 after  a successful uncrewed science mission  in December.

Even the International Space Station has opened its doors to private astronauts who visit to do scientific experiments.

As early as this month, the first all-European commercial astronaut crew will embark for the famed outpost as part of Houston-based company  Axiom's third mission  to the station.

And last August, NASA itself teamed up with Elon Musk's SpaceX to begin offering  a commercial crew program  ferrying trained astronauts to the ISS for science missions. The eighth crew  is targeted to launch  no earlier than mid-February.

Will spaceflight become accessible for more people? Rosano hopes so

For Rosano, who has spent years recording human suborbital flights for his  Suborbital Flight Journal website, being a small part of this new era has been an honor.

Much of Rosano's life has been dedicated to educating youth about astronomy and sharing his passion for space travel.

Rosano has spent 25 years as an educator with the nonprofit Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Since 2008, he's been a NASA “solar system ambassador,” offering community presentations on Mars rovers , the James Webb Space Telescope , the Apollo Moon landings and more.

Now that he's been to space himself?

“I’m not going to see the sky the same way anymore,” Rosano said. “I’m seeing it with a lid on it, so to speak.”

Knowing that he came back from his trip forever changed, Rosano hopes that space travel becomes more commonplace – and more affordable – in the years to come.

“It was a profound experience for me to go and I'm so thrilled to have done it, but equally exciting to me is, you'll have dozens, hundreds, thousands of people going on suborbital flights in the future," Rosano said. "That will bring about positive change to how we as humans view the planet, and I’m glad to have made this possible for more people."

Eric Lagatta covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach him at [email protected]

SpaceX Starship's next launch 'probably 3 to 5 weeks' away, Elon Musk says

"Objective is for the ship to get past max heating, or at least further than last time."

ground-up view of a huge silver rocket booster being rolled out of an assembly building toward the launch pad

We're likely still a month or so away from the next launch of SpaceX's Starship megarocket.

That was the timeline Elon Musk offered in a post on X over the weekend, saying Starship's next test flight is "probably 3 to 5 weeks" away. "Objective is for the ship to get past max heating, or at least further than last time," the billionaire entrepreneur added. 

The 400-foot-tall (122 meters) Starship is the biggest and most powerful rocket ever built. It consists of two elements, both of which are designed to be fully and rapidly reusable: a huge first-stage booster called Super Heavy and a 165-foot-tall (50 m) upper stage known as Starship, or simply "Ship."

Related: Relive SpaceX Starship's 3rd flight test in breathtaking photos

view of three rockets in an assembly building

A fully stacked Starship has flown three times to date, on each occasion from SpaceX's Starbase site in South Texas — in April 2023, November 2023 and March 14 of this year . The giant vehicle has performed better with each successive flight.

During the debut liftoff, for example, Starship's two stages failed to separate as planned, and SpaceX detonated the tumbling vehicle just four minutes after liftoff. Flight 2 achieved stage separation , but both Super Heavy and Ship broke apart early, ending the mission after eight minutes.

On Flight 3, Super Heavy successfully steered its way into position for a planned Gulf of Mexico splashdown but broke apart about 1,650 feet (500 m) above the waves. Ship reached orbital velocity and flew for nearly 50 minutes, though it ultimately succumbed to the violent forces of frictional heating when reentering Earth's atmosphere .

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As he noted in his X post, Musk wants Ship to do even better on the upcoming Flight 4.

— SpaceX launches giant Starship rocket into space on epic 3rd test flight (video)

— Starship and Super Heavy: SpaceX's Mars transportation system

— FAA to oversee investigation of SpaceX Starship's 3rd test flight

SpaceX has been gearing up for Flight 4 for a while now. The company has already conducted static fire tests for both the Super Heavy and the Ship assigned to the mission, briefly igniting their Raptor engines while the vehicles remained anchored to the pad at Starbase. SpaceX also recently rolled Flight 4's Super Heavy back to the pad, presumably for more testing, a move the company chronicled in a post on X on Saturday (May 11).

However, there may still be logistical hurdles to clear; SpaceX is seeking a license modification for its next launch from the Federal Aviation Administration, which is overseeing an investigation into what happened on the March 14 flight.

Editor's note: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that SpaceX is seeking a launch license from the FAA for the next Starship liftoff. SpaceX already has a launch license; it is seeking a modification of that license. The story was corrected at 11:15 a.m. ET on May 14 to make this clear.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected].

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with  Space.com  and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.

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SpaceX targeting June 5 for 4th test flight of Starship megarocket

  • Rob77 Admit a little disappointed at the delay, I'm sure month ago they were eyeing early May? But I guess its to be expected. It looked like they were getting another ready, maybe they might try 2 test runs consecutively? Reply
  • danR Translation: 6 to 10 weeks. From the days of Starhopper I'd been anticipating a gradual shift from linear cadence progress to exponential. That has been happening, but the exponent isn't very great, and isn't getting greater at any rate commensurate with getting manned missions to the Moon in under 4 years, or to Mars before 2035. Reply
  • Classical Motion Putting a man on Mars is no problem. Getting him back is. You will have to send and build an oasis before you can send a man. And you will need gravity and shielding for the trip. 2035-------maybe cockroaches. A man would only demonstrate ego over reason. Hollywood over reality. PR taken too far. What is the true value in going? Who benefits from the cost, time and resources? There is nothing new there. Send probes to our outer edge, out beyond Pluto and farther for newness. Analyze the corrosion of our system. We have recently found debris fields for all the planets. Perhaps our system leaves such. Reply
  • Classical Motion We might even excrete system debris in a pattern. Breadcrumbs. Reply
  • View All 4 Comments

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Ed Dwight, the First Black Astronaut Candidate in the U.S., Finally Travels to Space at 90 Years Old

More than 60 years after he became the United States’ first Black astronaut candidate, Ed Dwight finally flew to space.

On Sunday, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket carried six people to and from the Kármán line—the boundary 62 miles above Earth’s surface where the atmosphere ends and space begins. Dwight, a former Air Force captain, was among the crew. President John F. Kennedy selected him as an astronaut candidate in 1961, but Dwight was never admitted to NASA’s astronaut training program and had never been to space.

After stepping out of the capsule last weekend upon his return to Earth, the 90-year-old Dwight lifted both arms over his head in celebration.

“Fantastic! A life-changing experience. Everyone needs to do this!” he said, per NPR ’s Scott Neuman. “I didn’t know I needed this in my life, but now I need it in my life.”

Dwight was born in 1933 Kansas City, Kansas. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1953, completed pilot training and served as a military fighter pilot, according to his personal website . In 1957, he earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from Arizona State University.

As part of his preparation for becoming an astronaut, Dwight completed the experimental test pilot course and aerospace research pilot training and performed duties as an aerospace research pilot, per his website. Though the Air Force recommended him for astronaut training with NASA, he was not selected, per the Washington Post ’s Christian Davenport.

Dwight left the military in 1966 and had a wide-ranging career: He worked for IBM, developed a restaurant chain and founded a real estate company. He later became a sculptor, creating bronzes of important Black figures in American history, including pioneers in the American West and famous jazz musicians. His sculptures are installed in museums across the country.

Sunday, Dwight joined five other people on the New Shepard rocket’s trip to space: Mason Angel, the founder of a venture capital fund; Sylvain Chiron, the founder of a craft brewery in France; Kenneth L. Hess, a software engineer and entrepreneur; Gopi Thotakura, a pilot and aviator; and Carol Schaller, a retired accountant who has been traveling the world since being told by her doctor in 2017 that she will go blind.

The launch marked the seventh time Blue Origin has carried tourists to space on one of its rockets. It has now transported 37 people in total on trips beyond the Kármán line, where they experience weightlessness and overhead views of Earth on roughly 11-minute flights .

Blue Origin conducted 16 test flights of its New Shepard rocket, which concluded in 2021. The first crewed flight launched on July 20, 2021, with four people on board—including Jeff Bezos, the company’s founder. Sunday’s launch was Blue Origin’s first tourism flight since an uncrewed rocket’s engine failed during a flight a year and a half ago, per the Washington Post .

The recent flight launched from Texas at 9:35 a.m. local time on Sunday, and the capsule delivered the travelers back to Earth at 9:45 a.m., per the New York Times ’ Amanda Holpuch.

New Shepard is fully autonomous, meaning it has no pilot. The capsule landed with only two of its three parachutes deployed, but it has been designed to safely land with only one parachute if necessary, per the Blue Origin website .

Dwight is now the oldest person to ever travel to space, surpassing the actor William Shatner, who also flew on a New Shepard rocket in 2021.

“You’ve waited a long time for this opportunity and all of us who stand on your shoulders could not be happier,” Charles Bolden , the first Black NASA administrator, says to ABC News ’ Nadine El-Bawab and Bill Hutchinson in a message to Dwight before the flight launched. “I know how much you have dreamed about this, and I want you to take some time while you are flying to suck it all up and take it all in. You deserve every moment of this. You’ve been a role model and mentor for many of us for so long, and we’re with you there in spirit.”

Dwight tells NPR that he wants to go to space again. “I want to go into orbit. I want to go around the Earth and see the whole Earth.”

Ed Dwight celebrates after landing back on Earth following Sunday morning's ten-minute flight to space.

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First Black astronaut candidate, now 90, finally reaches space in Blue Origin flight

By William Harwood

Updated on: May 20, 2024 / 10:24 AM EDT / CBS News

Ed Dwight, a 90-year-old artist and former Air Force test pilot who was denied a chance to become the first African American astronaut six decades ago, finally rocketed into space on Sunday, fulfilling a cherished dream in a brief up-and-down flight out of the lower atmosphere.

"Absolutely fantastic!" he exclaimed after touchdown. "A life-changing experience. Everybody needs to do this!"

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Strapped into a Blue Origin New Shepard capsule, Dwight and five crewmates -- a retired accountant, an Indian pilot and adventurer, a software engineer, a French entrepreneur, and a venture capitalist -- blasted off from company owner Jeff Bezos' West Texas launch site just after 10:35 a.m. EDT, climbing away into a cloudless sky.

It was the company's first New Shepard flight with passengers aboard since a booster failure two years ago derailed an unpiloted research flight. A successful repeat mission late last year, also without a crew on board, cleared the way for the resumption of passenger flights.

"There was a part of my career that wasn't quite fulfilled, and here's a grand opportunity at this late date to fulfill that for self-satisfaction, yes," Dwight said in a pre-launch interview with CBS News. "But more importantly, to satisfy all the wonderful people that have showered me with love for all these years. Because it is those people that wanted me to go into space in the worst kind of way. To them (this) is justice."

During the 10-minute sub-orbital flight on Sunday, the New Shepard's single-stage hydrogen-fueled rocket accelerated the crew capsule to more than 2,100 mph at an altitude of 185,000 feet before releasing it to continue coasting upward. Weightless at that point, the crew reached an altitude of about 65 miles, a few miles above the internationally recognized "boundary" between the discernible atmosphere and space.

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Between booster cutoff and the capsule's re-entry, the six crew members were able to unstrap and enjoy about three minutes of weightlessness, taking in spectacular views of the Earth below as the spacecraft arced over the top of its trajectory for descent to a parachute-assisted touchdown a few thousand yards from the launch pad.

"I didn't think I needed this in my life," Dwight said after climbing out of the capsule. "I lied!"

One of the spacecraft's three main parachutes failed to inflate fully, but the spacecraft is designed to land with just two chutes safely, and the crew, all smiles after touchdown, obviously had no problems.

At 90 years and eight months old, Dwight is the oldest person ever to fly in space, edging out actor William Shatner, who launched aboard a New Shepard at age 90 in 2021 , by a few months. Aviatrix Wally Funk, who joined Bezos for the company's first piloted flight, ranks third on the list of "most senior" astronauts, flying at age 82.

A ticket to ride on a New Shepard is believed to cost around $500,000. Dwight's seat was sponsored by the non-profit Space for Humanity with support from the Jaison and Jamie Robinson Foundation. Jaison Robinson flew aboard a New Shepard in 2022.

Dwight's crewmates -- venture capitalist Mason Angel, French entrepreneur Sylvain Chiron, software engineer Kenneth Hess, retired accountant and adventurer Carol Schaller, and Gopi Thotakura, a commercial airline pilot and the second Indian national to fly in space -- are believed to have paid for their seats, but the actual costs are not known.

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Before launch, Dwight told CBS News he looked forward to seeing "the beautiful little round ball we call the Earth that we're not doing a very good job of taking care of, by the way. But it allows you to have a different perspective."

"I have this theory that I think every politician that runs for public office in the United States of America needs to do at least three orbits around the Earth so they can see what this place is all about," he said. "And they would stop destroying it. That's my wish. That would be a requirement for everybody that ran for political office on a national level."

As NASA's Mercury program was ramping up in the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy let it be known that he wanted an African American in the space agency's astronaut corps. Dwight got the nod and trained at the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, passing through the initial round of training.

But NASA did not select him as an astronaut, and he resigned from the Air Force in 1966 with the rank of captain. After stints in the private sector, Dwight earned a master of fine arts degree in sculpture, focusing on black history pioneers. He owns and operates Ed Dwight Studios in Denver.

"I've had, you know, 60 years to sit on and think about all the parts and pieces of this," he told CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan. "But the reason I have even the slightest bit of interest in going into space right now is that I've had a group of fans that have followed me from 1964, several generations, the fan mail has never stopped.

"The more I thought about it, what better way to fulfill my fans for the things that they've been asking me about for the last 60 years? And the opportunity came to fly into space."

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He said African American astronaut Leland Melvin first broached the idea while the two were working on "The Space Race," a documentary about the history of Black astronauts and engineers in NASA's space program.

"This all happened in relatively short period of time," Dwight said. "We had been working on 'Space Race,' and we had been traveling around the country doing film festivals. We were involved in Q & A's (and) how would you like to go up?" Melvin had contacts at Blue Origin, he added, "so it just evolved."

Blue Origin was on a launch-per-month pace in September 2022 when an uncrewed New Shepard carrying 36 experiments suffered a booster failure one minute after liftoff, triggering an automatic abort. The capsule was propelled away from the booster and landed normally a few minutes later.

The abort was blamed on the failure of the nozzle of the BE-3 engine powering the New Shepard rocket. After an extensive investigation, Blue Origin modified the rocket to prevent any similar malfunctions and successfully launched another unpiloted research flight in December 2023, clearing the way for the resumption of passenger flights.

Blue Origin's New Shepard is competing against Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic to carry space tourists, professional astronauts and others on sub-orbital space flights. Virgin Galactic has launched 55 passengers on 11 flights of the company's Unity spaceplane so far while Blue Origin has now launched 38 men and women on seven flights.

While Virgin is focused solely on sub-orbital flights, Blue Origin also is building a moon lander and a partially reusable orbital-class rocket -- the New Glenn -- to compete against SpaceX's workhorse Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters.

  • Virgin Galactic
  • Blue Origin

Bill Harwood has been covering the U.S. space program full-time since 1984, first as Cape Canaveral bureau chief for United Press International and now as a consultant for CBS News.

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