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Jeff Bezos’ rocket company starts another test of his tourist spaceship

It was the 13th test flight from New Shepard, as the vehicle is called, but it has yet to fly with people on board. Blue Origin eventually wants to send paying customers to the edge of space on short rides, but the company hasn’t started selling tickets or announcing a price. So far the vehicle has only conducted scientific experiments and at one point a test dummy nicknamed Mannequin Skywalker.

During a webcast of the test flight on Tuesday, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said only that the company was “very close” to being ready to fly humans.

New Shepard is made up of two parts – a small, dome-shaped capsule with gaping rectangular windows and a 60-foot-tall rocket booster that blasts the capsule to three times the speed of sound as it hurtles toward space. The capsule is designed to detach from the rocket near the tip of its trajectory, climb more than 60 miles, and hover in weightlessness for a few minutes before falling back to Earth.

New Shepard flew several experiments for NASA during Tuesday̵

7;s test launch, including a sensor attached to the outside of the rocket amplifier designed to study how future spaceships could make more precise landings on the lunar surface.

The New Shepard Booster was designed from the start to help Blue Origin develop lunar technology, Bezos told a crowd during a presentation on Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander program in 2018.
SpaceX and Blue Origin are among the companies selected to build NASA moon landers

Blue Origin is also designing a much larger rocket called the New Glenn that the company hopes will put cargo and satellites into orbit. This is a much more difficult and faster journey than New Shepard’s brief suborbital endeavors.

However, in all of Blue Origin’s plans for futuristic space technologies, the company is often viewed as an outsider in the commercial space exploration scene, where Elon Musk’s SpaceX dominates the headlines. While Blue Origin, founded in 2000, never sent humans into space or put a rocket into orbit, SpaceX, a company two years its junior, is launching huge numbers of satellites, sending astronauts to the International Space Station, and testing flying a Mars Missile prototype.

However, the Blue Origin leadership says it is all intended. The company’s mascot is a turtle, intended to symbolize the dedication to driving as slowly as necessary and never compromising. It’s the opposite of the culture at SpaceX in many ways that embodies the Silicon Valley ethos of moving extremely fast and accepting mistakes as learning experiences.

Both Blue Origin and SpaceX are closely associated with NASA, although SpaceX has raised billions more in government contract money over the years.

And both companies plan to work closely with the space agency to bring astronauts – two people including the very first woman – back to the moon.

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