Blue Origin’s New Shepard 16 set some new records, including both the youngest and oldest persons to fly into space.
On July 20 at 13:00 UTC. a Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket launched its first crewed flight into space. Onboard were company CEO Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, Wally Funk of the “Mercury 13”, and Oliver Daemen, son of Joes Daemen, a Dutch hedge fund manager.
The launch of the New Shepard itself was completely nominal, with a few holds during the countdown sequence prior to launch. Capsule separation was uneventful, and the capsule reached an apogee of 107 kilometers followed by a parachute landing for a total flight time of about 11 minutes. After capsule separation, the four passengers were allowed to unbuckle and float around the cabin for a few minutes.
After landing, the four passengers were successfully helped from the capsule by ground crews in electric pickup trucks. A key part of the safing procedure is installing a ground cable as the capsule picks up quite the static charge during its flight through the atmosphere, and it can be hazardous for passengers to get out by themselves if it’s not grounded first. A crowd of media and the passengers’ families were there to greet them at the landing site.
According to New Shepard Senior Engineer Gary Lai on the webcast, the landing site can be predicted to within about 300 meters before launch from wind measurements, which is how the ground crew got to the capsule within minutes of landing. They were whisked away to a press conference where they talked about their experiences, reminiscent of classic space press conferences from the Apollo era.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the story, there were several records set, including those for the youngest and oldest people to go to space.
Wally Funk was one of thirteen women who later became known as the “Mercury 13”. In 1961, a group of thirteen women successfully completed a set of medical evaluations similar to those of the male Mercury 7 astronauts with the help of a private group of doctors. They petitioned Congress to be accepted to NASA but were denied.
Now 82 years old, Wally became the oldest person to fly into space on this flight, surpassing John Glenn who returned to space on Discovery’s STS-95 when he was 77. She has wanted to go into space for a long time and even put down a deposit for a seat on the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 back in 2012.
Wally wanted to fly from a young age and took her first flight as a passenger at age nine. She got her pilot’s license in her teenage years at Stephen’s College in Missouri. She became a flight instructor after college and was the first female flight instructor at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. Later, she worked for the FAA, becoming the first female Aviation Operations Inspector, and later she went to the National Transportation Safety Board as an Air Safety Inspector. She is qualified to fly everything from gliders to large airliners and has accumulated over twenty thousand flying hours.
The record for the youngest person to fly in space went to eighteen-year-old Oliver Daemen, son of Joes Daemen who came second in an auction for the first paid seat on New Shepard. Another person had made the winning $28 million bid but had to reschedule from this flight, so Oliver was moved up to this flight.
In addition to being the youngest person to fly in space, he is only the fourth person from the Netherlands to do so. He’s currently on a gap year after graduating from the Dutch equivalent of high school, during which time he has spent getting his pilot’s license. Daemen will be attending the University of Utrecht to study physics and innovation management starting in September.
Though not a confirmed record, this is probably one of the most expensive graduation presents ever!
The previous record-holder for youngest space traveler was Gherman Titov who flew on Vostok 2 back in 1961 at age 25. He still holds the record for the youngest person to make an orbital flight. This record will stand for some time as the youngest person on the upcoming Inspiration4 orbital flight on a SpaceX Crew Dragon, Hayley Arceneaux, is 29.
Wally Funk (Ninety-Nines)