Blue Origin makes 4th flight, successfully lands after 10-minute voyage

By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – Blue Origin, the space tourism venture launched by entrepreneur Jeff Bezos, completed its fourth flight with a crew on Thursday, landing successfully in rural west Texas after taking a half dozen passengers for a 10-minute suborbital joyride.

The New Shepard spacecraft blasted off at 8:59 a.m. CDT (1359 GMT), and the crew capsule separated from the six-story-tall rocket a short time later as it soared to an altitude of 66 miles (106 km).

The crew members experienced a few minutes of weightlessness at the very apex of their brief ride before the capsule fell back to Earth to the desert floor under a canopy of three parachutes, landing safely outside the west Texas town of Van Horn.

"What an amazing mission from Launch Site One. Congrats to all of Team Blue on executing and supporting today’s flight," Blue Origin said on Twitter.

The flight came two days after it was initially scheduled, with poor weather conditions forcing the mission to be postponed on Tuesday.

Unlike Blue Origin's first three crewed flights, which featured passenger rosters including "Star Trek" actor William Shatner, morning TV host Michael Strahan and Bezos himself, nobody on Thursday's flight was particularly famous.

"Saturday Night Live" comic Pete Davidson had been confirmed as a non-paying promotional guest on the latest flight. But he dropped out earlier this month when the planned launch was postponed from its original March 23 date to allow time for additional pre-flight tests.

Days later the company announced that Davidson, 28, the boyfriend of reality TV star Kim Kardashian, had been replaced on the latest "crew" manifest by veteran Blue Origin designer Gary Lai, architect of the New Shepard reusable launch system.

Lai flew for free. He joined five previously announced paying customers – angel investor Marty Allen, real estate veteran Marc Hagle and his wife Sharon Hagle, entrepreneur and University of North Carolina professor Jim Kitchen and George Nield, founder and president of Commercial Space Technologies.

Bezos, the billionaire founder of online retail giant Amazon, was part of Blue Origin's inaugural crewed flight to the edge of space last July. He accompanied his brother, Mark Bezos, trailblazing octogenarian female aviator Wally Funk and an 18-year-old Dutch high school graduate.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Editing by Mark Porter)

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