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New Shepard capsule
A worker at Blue Origin stencils the seventh and last tortoise onto what Jeff Bezos calls a “hardy and stalwart” New Shepard space capsule. (Credit: Jeff Bezos via Twitter)

After seven launches, Blue Origin’s first New Shepard suborbital space capsule is getting a send-off from the company’s founder, Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos.

To celebrate last Thursday’s successful in-flight escape test in West Texas, Blue Origin’s team stenciled “the 7th and final tortoise” onto the capsule’s hatch, Bezos said today in a tweet.

The tortoise serves as the mascot for Bezos’ space venture, apparently in reference to the race between the tortoise and the hare in Aesop’s Fables. “In the long run, deliberate and methodical wins the day,” Bezos explained last month in an email.

Bezos is definitely deliberate and methodical when it comes to Blue Origin: The company moved along for 15 years before sending its first suborbital rocket ship to outer space and back successfully nearly a year ago. Now it has five round-trip spaceflights (all uncrewed) under its belt, and it’s setting its sights on beginning passenger service in 2018. Blue Origin also has plans for an orbital launch system called New Glenn, and an even bigger rocket called New Armstrong for trips beyond Earth orbit.

Blue Origin New Shepard capsule
Blue Origin’s team recovers the New Shepard capsule after a flight test in April. Three tortoises have been added to the paint job since then. (Credit: Blue Origin)

In addition to the past year’s five spaceflights, the New Shepard capsule took a low-altitude trip during a launch-pad escape test in 2012, and a test flight that resulted in the loss of its booster in April 2015. Add up all those launches and you get seven tortoises.

Now the New Shepard capsule as well as the reusable booster (which has now survived five trips to space and back) are being retired, and Blue Origin will use upgraded hardware for its next test flight.

So where will the old hardware go? “We’ll certainly find a place for these vehicles to be seen by everybody,” Blue Origin launch commentator Ariane Cornell said last week. So far, neither she nor anyone else at Blue Origin has been more specific than that.

When Bezos funded the recovery of Saturn V rocket engine parts from the bottom of the Atlantic, the artifacts were distributed to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., as well as to Seattle’s Museum of Flight. Doug King, the Museum of Flight’s president and CEO, said during last week’s GeekWire Summit that he hoped the process would follow a similar course this time around.

“They have been very open with all the museum community,” King said of the folks at Blue Origin. “We’re friendly competitors with the Smithsonian, so if they get something first, that doesn’t bother us. But we want something, too. We’re working very hard to tell the story, not just of Blue Origin, but the entire future space story – a big piece of which is right here in Seattle.”

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