Secured tightly into his seat, bright orange lights flashing, thick smoke visible from the window and then an enormous, sudden pressure against his body — this was the experience of UAE space tourist Hamish Harding as a Blue Origin rocket lifted off the ground, carrying him to the edge of space.
The long-time UAE resident described his flight during a virtual press conference held only an hour after the suborbital flight landed back in rural West Texas on June 4.
The 50-year-old was one of six passengers who took off on a New Shepard rocket to the final frontier.
They flew 106 kilometres above the ground and experienced a few minutes of weightlessness and witnessed Earth from above, set against the darkness of space.
Mr Harding said the 10-minute experience, from launch to landing, went by “too quick” and wished it had lasted longer.
‘Climb to space was spectacular’
“As soon as the rocket motor lights, there's a tremendous orange flash and smoke coming out — that is the spectacular bit as it launches off,” he said.
“The acceleration builds up and we reached a 3 G-force acceleration [force three times their weight as the rocket lifted off] at about Mach 3 going through, about 100,000 feet, and that’s only about two minutes into the flight.
“It was spectacular. Very quickly the booster’s main engine cut off, followed by separation, where the capsule then was free.
“At that point, we were able to get out of our harnesses because there’s no longer a risk of an escape manoeuvre, which requires the harness. So, at that point, we were able to float around the whole capsule.”
He said they took a group photo and then quickly rushed to the windows to enjoy the stunning views of the home planet.
Seeing Earth from above
The flight offers about four minutes of weightlessness before the capsule begins its descent back to Earth.
Mr Harding said he experienced the Overview Effect, often described by astronauts as a powerful shift in how a person views the planet and life.
“The Earth was what I was waiting to see and it was as spectacular as I'd been told,” he said.
“Looking down on the Earth, we should all work a lot better together.
“There is so much wasted effort on this planet by not working together. The world can move forward so much faster and more productively if we all did.”
‘A hard landing, but not painful’
After flying free in the cabin, the passengers were required to buckle up again for the ride back down.
They experienced 5 G-force during deceleration, but Mr Harding said the seat design in the capsule made it more comfortable.
“As we re-entered the atmosphere, it was quite significant,” he said.
“I've done 5G before in an aerobatic aircraft sitting up and that is quite intense.
“You can only do it for a short period of time without a G suit. But, 5G over a reasonable period of seconds was not really much of a concern because the seats are so well designed.
“Then eventually a loud bang and out come the parachutes. It was amazing … a hard landing, in no way painful at all … you knew you'd hit the Earth.”
Mr Harding has lived in the UAE for more than a decade and is the chairman of Action Aviation, which provides aircraft brokerage services to business jet and helicopter owners.
Last year, he dived into the Mariana Trench in the Pacific, the deepest point on Earth. In 2019, he flew around the world on a record-breaking flight with Nasa astronaut Terry Virts.
Other passengers on the flight were investor and NS-19 crew member Evan Dick; electrical engineer and former Nasa test engineer Katya Echazarreta, also the first Mexican-born woman to fly into space; civil production engineer Victor Correa Hespanha; deep-sea diver Victor Vescovo and adventurer Jaison Robinson.
Blue Origin, a space tourism company founded by Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, has now taken 26 people to the edge of space on its New Shepard flights.