Why NASA has high hopes for the future of space travel

Pooja Lodhia Image
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
Blue Origin's historic launch gives NASA high hopes for future
"We are going to look back on these last couple of years, 2020 and 2021, as a real inflection point for human space transportation," said a NASA official.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- When Blue Origin completed its first flight to the edge of space on Tuesday, NASA officials celebrated.

"I think we are going to look back on these last couple of years, 2020 and 2021, as a real inflection point for human space transportation," said Phil McAlister, NASA's director of commercial spaceflight.

NASA no longer has a shuttle program.

Experts at NASA provided guidance for the Blue Origin team, but the rocket and its launch were privately funded and executed.

"If you think about it, in the United States, we started flying people to space in the early 1960s," said McAlister. "It's 60 years later, and we have flown less than 600 people in that time frame. The vast majority of them, probably over 95%, were government astronauts. In the next 60 years, you're going to see a vast increase in the number of people that are going to fly, and you'll see that percentage flip to 95% non-government people."

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NASA was also a customer.

The Blue Origin rocket carried experiments that will bring back valuable data for NASA.

"Otherwise, we have to go all the way to the International Space Station," McAlister said. "That's a really great platform, but it's difficult to get on the space station, it's expensive, and it takes a long time to get your payload back. These suborbital payloads, if you only need a couple of minutes of microgravity, it's a really perfect kind of platform for some of our scientists and researchers."

This was Blue Origin's first flight with people on board after 15 test flights. Jeff Bezos blasted into space with a hand-picked group that included his younger brother, an 18-year-old from the Netherlands and an 82-year-old aviation pioneer from Texas.

They're the youngest and oldest to ever hurtle off the planet. Their capsule landed 10 minutes later on the desert floor in west Texas.

Named after America's first astronaut, the New Shepard rocket soared on the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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