Launch day aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket is fast approaching (just T-minus 2 days away) I have had a chance to get to know my crewmates and we have been engaged in training with “Crew Member 7” and “CapCom” who are extremely professional and experienced Blue Origin employees that are assigned to our crew throughout the mission. Last night we also had the chance to have dinner with Audrey Powers, who leads all of operations for New Shepard, and was a newly minted astronaut on NS-18. She was amazingly articulate as she talked about her life changing experience, and gave us tips on what to expect.
Yesterday we also had the chance to briefly visit with members of the engineering and testing team, and we plan to meet more of the organizational crew out at the launch tower today. Everything is becoming more real, and more tangible as each day rolls by. We are actually going to do this. We are going to space in 48 hours.
Many people are curious about what types of training commercial astronauts must complete before they fly aboard the New Shepard — and what that might look like for them in the future. There is quite a bit of classroom time, where we are learning about the launch vehicle, its systems, and its procedures but primarily we are training in a “sim” or high fidelity simulator.
With the simulator (affectionately known as the tortoise) we are able to experience a mission from start to finish, many times over. This has two primary benefits. First, we will know what to expect on launch day, not only in terms of what will happen but the order and timing of each event. And, secondly, we can practice many different scenarios for emergency response and “what-if.” After my first full day of training, I can honestly say I learned more about the New Shepard launch system in one day, then I had gleaned in several years of following the program. That is how good the training and trainers are at Blue Origin.
One element of our training regiment which isn’t perhaps typical, is it is all being recorded by the media. Yesterday, we had the crew from Good Morning America following (mostly) our every move and we were “mic-ed up” for the entire day. That was an interesting experience and a bit unsettling initially, but after a while we all got more used to it.
The next steps for our launch sequence is to do another full day of training and simulations. Our guests will start arriving tonight, through tomorrow afternoon, so the Astronaut Village and the town of Van Horn will start buzzing with activity. And while I mention Astronaut Village, a few words about our set-up here in the West Texas desert. In short, it is amazing. It is a beautiful Texas valley with prominent mesas and foothills (think a Louis L’Amour novel or Lonesome Dove). This, coupled with classic airstream trailers that all of us have the pleasure to stay in that evokes the Apollo space program and how those era’s astronauts stayed near the launch site. And all of this, fused together with Four Seasons level food and hospitality. Oh, and the Karman Line bar rivals any space museum I have ever been to. All of Astronaut Village is literally a Shangri-La to both human spaceflight and the Western spirit.
Each aspect of the preparation process has been an exciting and an enjoyable experience, and to follow in the footsteps of the astronauts and space pioneers who have paved the way for everyday citizens to fly to space, is an extraordinary privilege. Getting to know and share these moments with my crewmates has been one of the most rewarding experiences of this journey. I know that together we are on the precipice of showing the potential for commercial spaceflight to transform participants, and by extension our future society. Space is a tool for transformation, and the New Shepard system and team are helping to open the High Frontier.
Look for Journey to the Dream: Part IV after the launch!