First year of space tourism comes to a close with astronaut’s daughter, all-star football player among passengers


LunchboxLarry (Flickr)

Blue Origin space capsule

Ole Olafson, Reporter

The last private spaceflight of the year blasted off and safely returned to earth last weekend.

According to AP Aerospace Writer Marcia Dunn, the passengers included Laura Shepard Churchley, the eldest daughter of astronaut Alan Shepard, who famously hit golf shots on the surface of the moon as a member of the Apollo 14 moonshot.  “Good Morning America” co-host and former all-star defensive end for the New York Giants, Michael Strahan, was also along for the ride, which turned out to be about 50 miles shorter than Mr. Shepard’s 1961, Mercury flight.

The Saturday launch, which was reportedly delayed for two days by windy conditions, also included space exploration company, Voyager Space, chairman and CEO Dylan Taylor, financier Lane Bess and his son Cameron, as well as investor Evan Dick.

According to Dunn, the flight lasted about 10 minutes and sent the occupants skyward for 66 miles, into what NASA refers to as the mesosphere layer of the earth’s atmosphere.

The capsule traveled just above the imaginary line which marks the beginning of “space” 62 miles above sea level, where the passengers were able to experience several moments of weightlessness before the capsule parachuted them back to earth.

“I thought about Daddy coming down and thought, gosh he didn’t even get to enjoy any of what I’m getting to enjoy,” Shepard Churchley said after the flight.  “He was working. He had to do it himself. I went up for the ride!”

Blue Origin, the company Shepard Churchley and Strahan flew with Saturday, is owned by Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos, who went on the company’s first launch in July.

In October, actor William Shatner, perhaps better known as Captain James Kirk from the original “Star Trek” TV series, rode along on Blue Origin’s second launch.

Billionaire Richard Branson pioneered space tourism earlier in July by blasting off with his own company, Virgin Galactic.

While regular launches of paying customers and celebrity guests have only been available for a few months, Space X, founded by Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has been around since 2002.  The company routinely launches NASA satellites into space.

They were the first private company to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and have made two successful flights bringing astronauts to ISS in May and Nov. 2020.