Soccer star and television celebrity Michael Strahan took to space with Jeff Bezos’ rocket launch company on Saturday, sharing the journey with the daughter of America’s first astronaut.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket took off from West Texas, sending the capsule out on a 10-minute flight with two VIP guests and four paying customers. His capsule rose to an altitude of approximately 66 miles (106 kilometers), providing a few minutes of weightlessness before parachuting into the desert. The thruster also successfully landed again.
It was five minutes and 50 miles (187 kilometers) shorter than Alan Shepard’s Mercury flight from Cape Canaveral on May 5, 1961. His eldest daughter, Laura Shepard Churchley, took a small piece of his Freedom 7 capsule, as well as memories of his Apollo 14 Moon Shot and golf balls in honor of his father, who struck some on the lunar surface.
Overflowing with excitement on his “Good Morning America” updates throughout the week, Strahan packed his Super Bowl ring and retired the number 92 New York Giants jersey. “Pretty SURREAL!” tweeted on the eve of the launch, delayed two days by a dangerously strong wind. Bezos also kept a soccer ball in the capsule, which will be presented to the Professional Football Hall of Fame after the flight.
Bezos, who flew into space in July in the same capsule, accompanied the six passengers to the launch pad near Van Horn. He had painted “Light This Candle” on the launch tower bridge, borrowing Alan Shepard’s famous complaint from inside Freedom 7 as delays mounted: “Why don’t you fix your little problem and light this candle ? “
Shepard Churchley volunteered for Blue Origin’s third passenger flight. He chairs the board of directors of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.
“It’s kind of funny for me to say that an original Shepard will fly in the New Shepard,” he said in a Blue Origin video before the flight.
Bezos, who founded Amazon six years before Blue Origin, was at the debut launch in July. The second, in October, featured actor William Shatner, Captain James Kirk from the original “Star Trek” television series. The daughter of the late Leonard Nimoy sent a necklace with a “Vulcan Salute” charm on this flight, in honor of the show’s original Mr. Spock.
This time, the reusable automated pod was especially crowded. Instead of four, there were six flying.
Among the four space tourists who paid unspecified millions each was the first father-son combo: financier Lane Bess and his son Cameron. Also flying: Voyager Space president and CEO Dylan Taylor and investor Evan Dick.
Blue Origin dedicated Saturday’s launch to Glen de Vries, who launched into space with Shatner in October but was killed a month later in a plane crash.