Texas: The eldest daughter of pioneering US astronaut Alan Shepard took a joyride to the edge of space aboard Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocketship on Saturday, 60 years after her late father’s famed suborbital NASA flight at the dawn of the Space Age.
The launch capped a historic year for space exploration and marked the 13th human spaceflight mission this year – more than any other year
Laura Shepard Churchley, 74, who was a schoolgirl when her father first streaked into space, was one of six passengers buckled into the cabin of Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft as it lifted off from a launch site outside the west Texas town of Van Horn.
The crew capsule at the top of the fully autonomous, six-storey-tall spaceship soared to an altitude of about 106 km before falling back to Earth, descending under a canopy of parachutes to the desert floor for a gentle landing.
The entire flight, from liftoff to touchdown, lasted a little over 10 minutes, with the crew experiencing a few minutes of weightlessness at the apex of the suborbital flight.
Voices of Churchley and her crewmates exclaiming excitement at the ride could be heard in audio transmissions from the capsule played during a live launch webcast by Blue Origin as the vehicle neared the climax of its flight.
The spacecraft itself is named for Alan Shepard, who in 1961 made history as the second person, and the first American, to travel into space – a 15-minute suborbital flight as one of NASA’s original “Mercury Seven” astronauts. A decade later, Shepard walked on the moon as commander of the Apollo 14 mission, famously hitting two golf balls on the lunar surface.
Churchley was one of two honorary, non-paying guest passengers chosen by Blue Origin for Saturday’s flight. The other is Michael Strahan, 50, a retired National Football League star and co-anchor of ABC television’s Good Morning America show.