What will people experience when they rocket to the edge of space on the New Shepard suborbital spaceship that’s currently being tested by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin venture?
An 11-minute video, recorded inside the crew capsule during this week’s test flight in West Texas, gives you a pretty good idea.
You can even watch the flight’s effect on a test subject — in this case, an instrumented crash-test dummy nicknamed “Mannequin Skywalker.” (For those who have been on another planet for the past 20 years, that name’s a tribute to Anakin Skywalker, a central character in the “Star Wars” saga.)
One of the big takeaways is that there’s no crash: At the end of the ride, the capsule drifts down to the ground and lands with what looks like a relatively gentle floof.
On the way up, watch for the sky to turn from its typical light blue to near-black, with the curving Earth below. You can see just how much of a view you’ll get through windows that measure 3.6 feet high and 2.4 feet wide.
Another thing to watch for is the period of weightlessness at the top of the ride, when you can see light-colored flecks floating in the air. In a tweet, Bezos noted that human passengers won’t have the same experience that Mannequin Skywalker had.
“Unlike him, you’ll be able to get out of your seat during the zero gee part of the flight,” Bezos said. “And ignore the pinging sound – it’s just from one of the experiments on this flight.”
Twelve experiments flew aboard New Shepard this time around, and Blue Origin shared details about six of the payloads:
- An Orbital Medicine experiment tested a device that could assist in treating chest trauma and its effects (such as a collapsed lung) if suffered in the space environment. Orbital Medicine won funding for the flight through NASA’s Flight Opportunities program.
- Purdue University and Cumberland Elementary School in Indiana had their “Zero-Gravity Glow Experiment” aboard. During the zero-G phase of the flight, ZGGE mixed chemicals that create bioluminescence in fireflies, and recorded the resulting glow with a miniature camera. The results will answer a question posed by Cumberland’s second-graders: Would fireflies glow in space?
- DCS Montessori Middle School in Colorado provided a two-part payload: an Arduino Nano electronics board with a sensor package, and a school-wide art project.
- Embry Riddle Aeronautical University contributed two experiments. One was aimed at investigating how zero-G impacts the cellular processes of the immune system’s T-cells; the other looked at zero-G’s effect on genes that play a role in tumor growth.
- Johns Hopkins University’s JANUS Research Platform monitored vibrational, microgravity and thermal conditions aboard the crew capsule during the flight.
This week’s flight was the first conducted under a license from the Federal Aviation Administration that allowed Blue Origin to charge for payloads. The introductory price for flying a student payload like ZGGE is $5,300, but the price tag can reportedly range as high as $100,000.
Blue Origin hasn’t yet set the ticket price for flying actual people rather than dummies, and it’s not yet taking reservations. But Bezos has said test astronauts could start filling New Shepard’s seats next year, with paying customers taking Mannequin Skywalker’s place once the flight test program is finished.
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) December 15, 2017
Update for 6:25 p.m. PT Dec. 16: This report has been amended to provide a more accurate description of the arrangement for flying Orbital Medicine’s experiment to test a thoracic drainage device.