Meet Blue Origin's first space tourism passengers since explosion last year

Six customers will be blasting off to the edge of space on May 19

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Blue Origin is set to launch its first space tourism flight with passengers since an uncrewed explosion of a rocket last year.

Six people will be aboard the May 19 flight from West Texas, including the first black American astronaut candidate, aged 90, who was controversially never selected to fly to space with Nasa.

Ed Dwight’s seat on the New Shepard flight has been sponsored by Space for Humanity, a non-profit organisation that is hoping to “democratise” space.

The remaining passengers have paid for their seats, with tickets costing up to $1.25 million each, according to reports.

“Blue Origin announced today its seventh human flight, NS-25, will lift off from Launch Site One in West Texas on Sunday, May 19,” the company, owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos, said in a statement.

The launch window opens at 1.30pm UTC (5.30pm UAE time) and Blue Origin will broadcast the flight live on its website and social media channels.

In September, the NS-23 mission, which had only payloads and no passengers, exploded after an engine nozzle failure caused the rocket to overheat.

Unmanned Blue Origin rocket crashes

Unmanned Blue Origin rocket crashes

But the crew capsule escape system worked as it should, bringing the payloads back to the ground with a parachute-assisted landing.

Flights were grounded for several months. A cargo-only flight launched in December.

Before the incident, the company flew 31 passengers on its space tourism flights since starting commercial operations in 2021, including Mr Bezos.

The space tourism flights offer a 10-minute experience.

Once the spacecraft separates from the booster, it soars 106 kilometres above the ground.

The reusable booster lands back at the launch site.

The capsule then descends towards the Texas desert under three parachutes and retro engines, bringing the passengers back to the ground.

Meet the passengers

Mr Dwight was selected by President John F Kennedy in 1961 to carry out training at an elite US Air Force flight training programme, which was at the time a pathway to becoming part of Nasa’s astronaut corps.

He was given a letter by the president, offering him the opportunity to become the first black astronaut.

Despite completing the programme and getting recommended to Nasa by the air force, he was never selected.

Mr Dwight said in several media interviews that he faced discrimination from his peers, especially after President Kennedy was assassinated.

He spent the following years as an entrepreneur and dedicated his life to creating sculptures to tell the story of black history.

More than 130 public works have been created by Mr Dwight that are installed in museums and public spaces across the US and Canada, including large-scale monuments of Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Fredrick Douglass.

The early days of Nasa were marked by significant discrimination, reflecting the broader societal issues of the time.

Despite these challenges, many individuals from marginalised groups made invaluable contributions to the space programme, often overcoming major obstacles to do so.

Guion Bluford became the first black American to fly to space in 1983 – 25 years after Nasa was founded.

Mason Angel is the founder of Industrious Ventures, a venture capital fund that supports new companies focusing on industrial revolutions.

Sylvain Chiron is the founder of Brasserie Mont Blanc, one of the largest craft breweries in France.

He earned his pilot's licence at the age of 16 and entered mandatory service in the French military later in life, where he served as a ski instructor for the French Air Force and Nato pilots.

Kenneth L Hess is a software engineer and entrepreneur, who developed the Family Tree Maker product line in the 1990s.

In 2001, he founded Science Buddies, a non-profit that improves Stem literacy and focuses on space exploration.

Carol Schaller is a retired accountant and an adventurer, who has visited Mount Everest Base Camp, trekked to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest of Uganda to see mountain gorillas, visited the South Pole and camped in a tent in the desolate Antarctic plain at -20 degrees.

Gopi Thotakura is the co-founder of Preserve Lift Corp, a global centre for holistic wellness and applied health.

He is a pilot who flies jets commercially and also pilots aerobatic and seaplanes, as well as gliders and hot air balloons.

Updated: May 15, 2024, 9:55 AM