Jeff Bezos’ space firm Blue Origin safely completed its fourth-ever crewed trip to low orbit on Thursday morning without “Saturday Night Live” comedian Pete Davidson, who dropped out of the mission days earlier.
The six passengers took off in a “New Shepard” shuttle at roughly 9 a.m. local time from their launch site in Texas and returned to the ground roughly 10 minutes later. The spacecraft reached a maximum speed of 2,236 mph, according to Blue Origin.
Davidson’s replacement, longtime Blue Origin employee Gary Lai, was the first person to exit the capsule upon its return to Earth.
Lai is the chief architect of Blue Origin’s “New Shepard” shuttle program and was one of the first people to join the firm.
“I don’t know that I could even, words could do that justice. You just have to feel it,” Lai said after the mission landed. He added that the sensation of flying to space was “different” from what he expected.
Dubbed “NS-20,” the latest launch was the 20th in Blue Origin’s history.
Aside from Lai, the mission’s crew members included investor Marty Allen; SpaceKids Global founder Sharon Hagle; her husband and Tricor International CEO Mark Hagle; entrepreneur Jim Kitchen and Commercial Space Technologies President George Nield.
Blue Origin identified Kitchen as a “world explorer who has visited all 193 U.N.-recognized countries.” The trip to space added another accomplishment to his resume of adventure.
Kitchen displayed a flag with the number 194 when he exited the capsule.
“This was pushing that final boundary, going to space. Let me tell you, that was an out-of-body experience,” Kitchen said. “On the way up, you’re going 2,300 miles per hour and you feel every bit of that.”
Davidson’s plan to fly to space with Blue Origin generated widespread buzz this month – until the firm revealed on March 18 that the mission was delayed and the comedian would no longer participate.
An exact reason for Davidson’s exit hasn’t surfaced, though conflicts with his filming schedule may have been a factor.
Blue Origin’s first three crewed spaceflights have celebrities on board. Bezos participated in the firm’s first-ever passenger flight last year, while “Star Trek” actor William Shatner was aboard the second mission in October 2021 and NFL star-turned-TV host Michael Strahan flew to space last December.