VAN HORN, Texas - Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin launched its fourth human flight for the New Shepard program on Thursday, sending six passengers to the edge of space.
The passengers, including one of Blue Origin’s early employees and five other paying customers, soared in the automated capsule to an altitude of 66 miles, feeling a few minutes of weightlessness before parachuting into the desert.
"Saturday Night Live" star Pete Davidson had initially been among the passengers slated to take flight. But the comedian abruptly dropped out of the mission after it was rescheduled and Davidson was replaced by Gary Lai, one of the first 20 Blue Origin employees.
The five other passengers were Party America CEO Marty Allen, philanthropist and Tricor International CEO Marc Hagle and his wife, Sharon Hagle, who founded the nonprofit SpaceKids Global, teacher and entrepreneur Jim Kitchen and Commercial Space Technologies President Dr. George Nield. The ticket price was not disclosed.
After the initial delay, liftoff was scheduled for March 29 but it was again pushed back to Thursday morning from its launch complex near Van Horn, Texas.
A Blue Origin New Shepard rocket launches from Launch Site One in West Texas north of Van Horn on March 31, 2022. - The NS-20 mission carries Blue Origins New Shepard Chief Architect Gary Lai, Marty Allen, Sharon Hagle, Marc Hagle, Jim Kitchen, and D
For previous flights, Blue Origin has enlisted "Star Trek" actor William Shatner, 90, who became the oldest person to reach space in October aboard a Blue Origin flight. Shatner called the flight "the most profound experience I can imagine."
"It’s an honor. I’m so filled with emotion about what just happened," Shatner told Jeff Bezos moments after the flight, no longer able to hold back tears. "I just, it’s extraordinary, extraordinary."
Former NFL player and TV personality Michael Strahan also joined Laura Shepard Churchley, the eldest daughter of NASA astronaut Alan Shepard, and others for a flight in December.
Bezos, who founded Amazon six years before Blue Origin, was on his company’s debut launch in July. The second, in October, included Shatner — Captain James Kirk of TV’s original "Star Trek." The late Leonard Nimoy’s daughter sent up a necklace with a "Vulcan Salute" charm on the Oct. 13 flight in honor of the show’s original Mr. Spock.
FILE IMAGE - Blue Origin’s New Shepard lifts off from the Launch Site One launch pad carrying Good Morning America co-anchor Michael Strahan, Laura Shepard Churchley, daughter of astronaut Alan Shepard, and four other civilians on Dec. 11, 2021, near
Private U.S. companies had a multitude of launches in 2021, signaling the year of space tourism finally taking off. Virgin Galactic kicked it off in July, sending up its billionaire founder, Richard Branson, followed by Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
So many are flying that the Federal Aviation Administration announced in December it will no longer designate who is a commercial astronaut or give out wings.
This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.