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William Shatner’s space flight: here’s everything you need to know

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Shatner, 90, is set to become the oldest person to ever travel to space, though his spaceship doesn’t come equipped with warp drive, carriers, or shields. It will take off aboard a New Shepard spacecraft – the one developed by Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin – alongside three teammates: Chris Boshuizen, co-founder of satellite company Planet Labs, and software director Glen. de Vries, who ‘We’ll both be paying customers, as well as Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s vice president of mission and flight operations.

Their flight is scheduled to take off from Blue Origin’s launch facilities in West Texas on Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. CT, a 24-hour delay from the original schedule due to high winds in the area.

A ride aboard a Starfleet spaceship, that will not be the case. Instead, the group will attach themselves inside a capsule that sits atop Blue Origin’s 60-foot-tall New Shepard rocket, which will rise to about three times the speed of sound and will reach over 100 km high before immediately descending to Earth. . From start to finish, the journey will take around 10 minutes.

It will be the second of what Blue Origin hopes will be many space tourism launches, transporting wealthy customers and thrill seekers to the edge of space. However, Bezos is a vocal Star Trek fan, and Shatner will be flying as a guest, for free.

Here’s all you need to know.

Is it safe?

Blue Origin has performed more than a dozen unmanned New Shepard test flights, and Bezos decided to participate in the very first crewed flight in July – in part to demonstrate that he has confidence in his own life with the Blue Origin technology.

This Blue Origin flight will make Shatner the oldest person to ever travel to space, breaking the record set just a few months ago by 82-year-old Wally Funk, who was a former trainee astronaut but had gone previously seen denied the opportunity to fly before her. joined Bezos on the July flight from New Shepard.

Blue Origin pitched New Shepard as a spaceship that virtually anyone can fly on with just a few days of light training. While the vehicle subjects passengers to intense G-forces as it ascends and returns to Earth, the ride won’t be as intense as orbital flights like the one SpaceX recently operated for four space tourists, which takes a lot. faster speeds and a fierce reentry process.
(Read more about suborbital versus orbital flights and the somewhat arbitrary attempts to define where “outer space” begins here.)

On the Blue Origin website, it sets out the following criteria for passengers:

  • You must be 18 years of age or older.
  • You should be between 5’0 “and 6’4” and between 110 pounds and 223 pounds.
  • You must be in good enough physical shape to climb seven flights of stairs in a minute and a half
  • You should be able to attach and unhook a sit harness in less than 15 seconds, spend up to an hour and a half strapped into the capsule with the hatch closed, and withstand up to 5.5G of force on the descent.

Yet spaceflight is inherently risky. To get enough speed and power to defy gravity, rockets must use powerful, controlled explosions and complex technology that always involves uncertainties.

“I’m really, really worried,” Shatner told CNN’s Anderson Cooper last week. “There is an element of luck here.”

From a physiological standpoint, however, Shatner’s age shouldn’t be an issue, according to Dorit Donoviel, executive director of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH), a research group led by Baylor College of Medicine. and in partnership with NASA.

Donoviel pointed to a series of studies in which people with pre-existing health conditions, including elderly men with heart problems, were subjected to up to 6G in a spinning centrifuge to simulate the crushing forces experienced by the body during space flights.

“They were doing perfectly fine,” Donoviel said. “The only thing – the state of health – that was of concern when they did these studies was really anxiety and definitely claustrophobia.”

Blue Origin passengers could experience up to 5.5 G, which can also make it difficult to breathe or move the hands and arms. But they won’t have the stress of piloting New Shepard, which is fully autonomous, so they can just sit there and wait for the more stressful parts of the trip.

One absolutely crucial thing for them, however, is to get back to their seats as soon as mission control warns passengers that the capsule’s three minutes of weightlessness are about to end. As the spacecraft begins to fall back to Earth and the overwhelming g-forces return, passengers who are not strapped to their seats and oriented in the correct position could risk serious injury.

“If they face the [wrong] That way the g-forces could remove all the blood from the head and go down to the feet, in which case the person would pass out, ”Donoviel said.

This space flight also comes as Blue Origin is faced with the reaction of a group of 21 current and former employees – including engineers and senior managers who have worked in various departments and programs – who have co-signed an essay alleging that the company has an exhausting workplace. culture that prevents the engineers of the New Shepard rocket from guaranteeing its safety. The test says many of its signatories “say they wouldn’t fly a Blue Origin vehicle.”
This news also came amid a flurry of headlines that paint a picture of internal turmoil at Blue Origin, including a wave of departures among senior staff.

Blue Origin did not respond to requests for comment on the security claims. But the company has repeatedly said safety is its top priority.

Powers, the vice president of Blue Origin who will fly on Wednesday, also responded to the security allegations in an interview with CNN’s Erica Hill on Monday, saying the reports did not give him pause.

“I’ve been working at Blue on the new Shepard program specifically for eight years,” she said. “A team of very, very talented professionals and colleagues – some of the best I have worked with in my 20 years of manned flight – are committed to making this program run safely.”

What’s going to happen ?

When most people think of spaceflight, they think of an astronaut circling the earth, floating in space, for at least a few days.

This is not what the New Shepard passengers will do. In fact, if all goes well, it should look a lot like Bezos’ flight in July.

They’ll go up and down, and they’ll do it in less time, about 10 minutes, than it takes most people to get to work.

Visually, the Blue Origin livestream will show the rocket and capsule sitting on a launch pad at Blue Origin’s private facility in rural Texas – near Van Horn, about 120 miles east of El Paso.

William Shatner’s space flight: here’s everything you need to know
New Shepard’s suborbital fights reach about three times the speed of sound – about 2,300 miles per hour – and fly straight upward until the rocket spends most of its fuel. The crew capsule will then separate from the rocket at the top of the flight path and continue upward briefly before the capsule hovers almost at the top of its flight path, giving passengers a few minutes of weightlessness. It works much like an extended version of the weightlessness you feel when you reach the top of a roller coaster hill, just before gravity pulls your cart – or, in this case, your space capsule – back crying towards the sky. ground.
William Shatner’s space flight: here’s everything you need to know

The rocket, flying separately after detaching from the capsule carrying humans, will re-ignite its engines and use its on-board computers to perform an accurate vertical landing.

The New Shepard capsule, carrying the crew, will then deploy a large plume of parachutes to slow its descent to less than 20 miles per hour before touching down. Passengers will be further cushioned by shock-absorbing seats and a “retro-thrust” system that creates an “air cushion” around the capsule.

What is the point of all this?

Blue Origin plans to use New Shepard to compete directly with British billionaire Richard Branson and his suborbital space tourism company, Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic tickets cost around $ 450,000, more than the median US home selling price. Blue Origin has not publicly set the ticket price, although it recently auctioned one off for $ 28 million. Shatner will fly as a complementary guest, although Bezos said in July that the company sold nearly $ 100 million worth of tickets in total.

It’s all part of a much larger push by commercial space companies – and NASA – to make space a place of business. The idea is that the private sector can drive innovation and lower costs, paving the way for a future in which everyday people – not just professional astronauts – live and work in space. This vision has attracted much criticism, with skeptics questioning whether we can build a fair future in space if it is only mapped by those who can afford it.

It’s also unclear what sustained interest suborbital space tourism will generate from the world’s wealthiest people. But Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic also plan to use their technologies in other businesses. In Blue Origin’s case, this includes building a massive orbital rocket for launching military, scientific and commercial satellites and a lunar lander. However, Blue Origin’s offer to make a vehicle that will land the next humans on the moon was recently rejected by NASA and is now caught in a legal battle.

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