Blue Origin’s recent spaceflight was a tribute to the people of Ukraine.
Six people flew into suborbital space on Thursday (March 31). fourth manned flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle. One of the passengers, professor and entrepreneur Jim Kitchen, carried a symbol of support and solidarity for Ukraine Russia invaded on February 24th.
“So I brought both the Ukrainian and American flags in my passport and released them just to pay my respects to the situation that is occurring there now and to let them know that our hearts are with them,” he said Kitchen opposite Space. com during a call with reporters after Thursday’s flight.
Related: Meet the 6 spaceplanes on Blue Origin’s NS-20 mission
Kitchen didn’t just take a passport with him on the trip; he brought 10 of them bearing the stamps of visits to all 193 countries recognized by the United Nations. Kitchen is now the first person to have made these international rounds on Earth and is also said to have gone into space Blue Origin.
Like many other astronauts, Kitchen emphasized that the view from high above shows the Earth as it really is – a beautiful entity with no visible boundary.
“We’re all human,” he said. “We are governed by different governance structures and different governments and different borders, but we are all human. So I just wanted to express some humanity on this flight and let them know that we’re aware of what’s going on around us.”
Kitchen was joined by four other paying customers Thursday: businessman Marty Allen; Sharon Hagle, founder of educational nonprofit SpaceKids Global; her husband Marc Hagle, President and CEO of real estate development company Tricor International; and George Nield, the President of Commercial Space Technologies, LLC, who served as Assistant Administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation from 2008 to 2018.
Sharon and Marc Hagle were the first married couple to ever fly together in a private spacecraft. However, they are not the first such duo to reach space together; that would be NASA astronauts Mark Lee and Jan Davis, both of whom flew on the Space Shuttle Endeavor’s STS-47 mission in 1992.
The sixth passenger on Thursday’s mission — known as NS-20 because it was the 20th total spaceflight for a New shepherd Vehicle – was Blue Origin employee Gary Lai, the chief architect of the New Shepard system. Lai flew for free and inherited the seat originally reserved for “Saturday Night Live” star Pete Davidson backed out after the mission was delayed from its original target date of March 23.
NS-20 was very special to Lai, as you can imagine.
“I’ve obviously been thinking about what this experience will be like for our astronauts, and experiencing it for myself has been a pleasure,” Lai said during Thursday’s post-flight call. “It was ten times more intense than I thought, or anything I’ve ever experienced physically, mentally and emotionally in my life.”
New Shepard consists of a rocket and a capsule, both of which are reusable. The rocket returns to Earth for a vertical, powered landing, and the autonomous capsule gently lands under parachutes. Each New Shepard flight takes approximately 10 to 11 minutes from launch to capsule touchdown.
Passengers experience three to four minutes of weightlessness and see Earth against the blackness of space. Blue Origin has not disclosed how much it charges for a seat onboard the vehicle.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaelwall. Follow us on Twitter @spacedotcom or on Facebook.