Artemis: The Good, the Bad and the Well, Yeah

Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and top officials provided an update on the Artemis program on Tuesday, delivering the not unexpected news that the space agency will not meet its deadline of landing a man and the first woman of color at the south pole of the moon in 2024. Instead, the landing will be delayed until at least 2025.

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Bezos Ends Challenge to NASA Lunar Lander Award to SpaceX

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos tweeted yesterday that he accepted a court’s dismissal of the company’s challenge to NASA’s decision to award a single lunar lander contract SpaceX. He wished the space agency and rival company full success in landing two astronauts on the moon.

NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to develop the Human Landing System in April. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) rejected protests from Blue Origin and Dynetics in July. Bezos’ company subsequently appealed in court.

Video: Tom Hanks Turned Down Bezos Invite to Fly to Space

Video Caption: Tom talks about doing a talk show again, being the only human in his movie “Finch,” acting with a dog named Seamus, the idea of going to space, hosting a 60’s radio show called Songs from the Back of the Station Wagon, doing a lot of local radio morning shows at the beginning of his career, the passing of his dear friend Peter Scolari, and he shares one of his favorite scenes from their time working together on “Bosom Buddies.”

Editor’s Note: The segment about space starts at 5:25.

Blue Origin Eyes UAE as Possible Launch Site

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket, which carried payloads supported by NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, lands on the pad in West Texas on Aug. 26, 2021. NASA’s Orbital Syngas Commodity Augmentation Reactor (OSCAR), which tests technology to convert trash and human waste generated during spaceflight into useful gases, was a part of the 17th New Shepard mission. (Credits: Blue Origin)

The National reports that Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is eyeing the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for launches of its New Shepard suborbital crew system.

In an exclusive interview with The National, Brent Sherwood, senior vice president of advanced development programmes for Blue Origin, said the UAE was an “obvious choice” for a spaceport and that it was looking to expand its launch sites from the current one in El Paso, Texas.

“Now that we are operational for tourism, the next thing we are looking at is other locations around the planet to establish launch and landing sites for New Shepard,” he said.

“It’s an obvious place to look here. All we really need is some desert. One of the endearing qualities of the West Texas desert is that it is hard to get to the El Paso airport. You have to drive for a couple of hours and it is in the middle of nowhere.

“A couple of nights ago I slept over in Sharjah and did some stargazing in the desert. It was only 30 minutes away from Dubai, so I think it’s very promising to think about areas here.”

Virgin Galactic is also eyeing the UAE for flights of its suborbital SpaceShipTwo crew vehicle. The government of Abu Dhabi invested $390 million into Richard Branson’s space company.

Stucky Turns Blue: Joins Jeff Bezos’ Space Company After Departure From Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic

Richard Branson (l) and George Whitesides (r) walk with SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Mark Stucky, whom Virgin Galactic demoted as its director of flight test in May and fired two months later, has joined Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space company, CNN reports.

Stucky said he will join Blue Origin’s “Advanced Development Programs” team, where he said in a statement to CNN that he will “do my best to contribute to [CEO Jeff Bezos’] amazing vision of humans not just having a continuous presence in space but truly becoming a space-faring species.”

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A Teary-eyed William Shatner Describes Flying to Space for Real Aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard

Jeff Bezos pins Blue Origin astronaut wings on actor William Shatner. (Credit: Blue Origin webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Visibly moved to tears, Star Trek actor William Shatner struggled to describe the experience of spaceflight to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos after making a suborbital flight aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule.

“What you have given me is the most profound experience I can imagine. I am so filled with emotion about what just happened. Just extraordinary. I hope I never recover from this. I hope that I can maintain what I feel now, I don’t wanna lose it,” he said.

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Discovery and Science Channel to Broadcast William Shatner Flight To Space

William Shatner in his flight suit (Credit: Blue Origin)

Space Launch LIVE: Shatner in SpaceAiring Live
on Discovery and Science Channel, Wednesday, October 13, 8:30 -10:30 AM

Discovery and Science Channel brings viewers the highly-anticipated launch of Star Trek star William Shatner as he takes his first flight into space — at the age of 90, soon to be the oldest person to fly to space — on Blue Origin’s New Shepard, a cutting-edge suborbital rocket.

Scheduled for Wednesday after weather delays, the mission, known as NS-18, will launch from Blue Origin’s West Texas site. This will be the second-ever crewed spaceflight for Blue Origin after its inaugural crewed flight launched founder Jeff Bezos and three other passengers on a 10-minute trip to space and back in July.

Report: Blue Origin has Stagnant, “Authoritarian Bro Culture”

Jeff Bezos

The Washington Post has a story examining the dysfunction at Jeff Bozos’ Blue Origin space company. It’s not a pretty portrait of the company under CEO Bob Smith.

The new management’s “authoritarian bro culture,” as one former employee put it, affected how decisions were made and permeated the institution, translating into condescending, sometimes humiliating, comments and harassment toward some women and a stagnant top-down hierarchy that frustrated many employees.

As it quickly grew from a small start-up to a large corporation with nearly 4,000 employees, Blue Origin grappled with how to improve its culture. In 2019, the company fired its head of recruiting after employees complained of sexism. A consultant retained by Blue Origin conducted a review of the company’s leadership, finding that the primary challenge was Smith’s ineffective, micromanaging leadership style, said two former employees, including a top executive.

The interviews and documents obtained by The Post reveal wide-ranging employee concerns about Smith’s leadership style, a bureaucracy that hampered innovation, and a lack of intervention from Bezos, who employees said was not giving the company enough attention during a crucial period….

Not everyone says the company culture has grown toxic. One employee who works outside the main headquarters said she has found the culture and leadership welcoming and respectful. Blue Origin’s human resources team took immediate action when she reported a claim of “highly inappropriate behavior” from another employee earlier this year, she said.

The company started investigating right away, and the other employee was terminated, further confirming her confidence in the company. “I’ve never felt like I couldn’t go to our leadership for support,” she said. “I’ve never felt like I couldn’t go to HR with a problem.”

The story appears to confirm many of the claims made in an open letter published by Blue Origin’s former head of employee communications Alexandra Abrams and 20 former and present company employees.

William Shatner to Boldly Go Where No Star Trek Captain Has Gone Before on Blue Origin’s New Shepard

William Shatner with CrewMember 7 Sarah Knights (left), and Audrey Powers (right). (Credit: Blue Origin)

KENT, Wash. (Blue Origin PR) — Today, Blue Origin announced actor William Shatner and Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s Vice President of Mission & Flight Operations, will fly on board New Shepard NS-18. They will join crewmates Chris Boshuizen and Glen de Vries for the flight which lifts off from Launch Site One on October 12.  

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FAA Examination of Blue Origin Safety Issues Likely to be Very Narrow

New Shepard launch (Credit: Blue Origin webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said it will examine safety issues about Blue Origin’s crewed suborbital New Shepard vehicle raised by a group of current and former employees in an open letter published on Thursday.

The announcement comes 11 days before four paying customers, one reported to be Star Trek star William Shatner, are scheduled to board New Shepard for a trip to space. While a federal safety review might sound reassuring to these ticket holders, what does it actually mean in practice?

Probably not much.

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Former Employees Accuse Bezos, Blue Origin of Creating Toxic and Sexist Workplace, Cutting Corners on Safety

Jeff Bezos

Blue Origin’s former head of employee communications Alexandra Abrams and 20 former and present Blue Origin employees have published a stinging essay accusing Jeff Bezos and his space company, Blue Origin, of creating a sexist working environment where employees are overworked and corners are cut on safety.

The essay, “Bezos Wants to Create a Better Future in Space. His Company Blue Origin Is Stuck in a Toxic Past,” was published on Lioness.co. A key theme is that Bezos’ vision of billions living in space colonies is seriously at odds with the environment within Blue Origin.

The authors wrote of a sexist and discriminatory atmosphere within a company that is predominantly male.

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Blue Origin Announces Two Passengers for Oct. 12; William Shatner Not Mentioned

Chris Boshuizen (left) and Glen de Vries (right). (Credit: Blue Origin)

KENT, Wash. (Blue Origin PR) — Today, Blue Origin announced New Shepard’s 18th mission, NS-18, will lift off on Tuesday, October 12, carrying four astronauts to space and back, including Dr. Chris Boshuizen, a former NASA engineer and co-founder of Planet Labs, and Glen de Vries, Vice-Chair, Life Sciences & Healthcare, Dassault Systèmes and co-founder, Medidata. The two other astronauts will be announced in the coming days.

[Editor’s Note: TMZ.com reported Star Trek actor William Shatner will be aboard the upcoming flight. There’s been no confirmation of that report.]

Live launch coverage begins on BlueOrigin.com at T-60 minutes. Liftoff is currently targeted for 8:30 am CDT/ 13:30 UTC from Launch Site One in West Texas. 

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Virgin Galactic’s Next Challenge: The Flight of the Vested?

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

This was supposed to be the Summer of Virgin Galactic. The company would complete the three remaining suborbital flight tests of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, the second one with Richard Branson aboard. The company’s newest space tourism vehicle, SpaceShipIII, would begin its flight tests.

Once VSS Unity tests were complete, engineers would spend four months making a series of repairs and upgrades to the spacecraft and its WhiteKnightTwo mothership, VMS Eve. And then in early 2022, the company would use both spaceships to fly tourists on suborbital joy rides that were originally projected to begin 15 years earlier in 2007.

Sounds easy enough, right? It wasn’t. The Summer of Virgin Galactic went about as well as the Summer of George on Seinfeld. If best laid plans of mice, men and Costanzas often go awry, Virgin Galactic’s schedules are guaranteed to move significantly to the right. Years to the right.

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