Blue Origin launches NS-19 with full passenger complement

by Adrian Beil

Blue Origin launched a crew of six people on board a New Shepard rocket on Saturday, December 11 from the company’s West Texas facility at Corn Ranch. The liftoff took place at 9:01 am CST at the launch site, or 15:01 UTC.

This flight was the third crewed undertaking for Blue Origin since their first flight in July. This flight was performed with the same capsule as the first two flights, called RSS First Step.


The NS-19 mission of the New Shepard system marked the company’s sixth overall suborbital flight of the year and the first time a full passenger complement of six people was carried to space on the New Shepard vehicle.

The two previous human missions on NS-16 in July and NS-18 in October carried only four passengers each.

The NS-19 flight’s patch featured a tribute to a previous passenger of Blue Origin, Glen de Vries. The initials GDV are visible on the base of the crew capsule on the NS-19 patch.

De Vries flew on the NS-18 mission in October 2021; he was killed in a private plane crash in New Jersey one month later.

Overall, NS-19 was scheduled to be the final human space launch of 2021 — although the ongoing Soyuz MS-20 mission will be the final scheduled crew flight to return to Earth for the year.

With NS-19, a total of 48 humans were launched to space in 2021 (with David Mackay flying twice), 27 on orbital missions and 21 on suborbital flights.

The crew

The six people who flew on NS-19 were:

Laura Shepard Churchley

Laura is the daughter of Alan Shepard, the first American to reach space and the namesake of the New Shepard rocket. She is chairman of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, which helps to raise money for college students to pursue education in the STEM fields.

Like Laura’s NS-19 flight, her father’s first mission, Freedom 7, was a 15 minute suborbital flight for NASA on May 5, 1961; his second and final spaceflight brought him to Fra Mauro on the lunar surface on February 5, 1971 as the Commander of Apollo 14.

Blue Origin offered Laura her seat on the flight; she is not a paying passenger. She will be the first person to fly on a rocket that is named after one of her parents.

Michael Strahan

The former American football player and host of Good Morning America was likewise invited by Blue Origin to join the NS-19 flight. Along with his invitation, Blue Origin has given him a stipend, which he will donate to The Boys & Girls Club.

As an athlete, he was part of the 2007 New York Giants team that won the Super Bowl. He retired from American football that same year.

Strahan is now a co-anchor of the ABC program Good Morning America and is also known for his charity work for veterans and people without shelter.

Dylan Taylor

Dylan Taylor is the CEO and Chairman of Voyager Space Holdings, a company that aims to offer a variety of services in the space sector across robotics, launch services, and communications. Their customers include OneWeb satellites, the United States military, SpaceX, NASA, United Launch Alliance, and more.

Before his role with Voyager, he worked as a global president for the investment management company Colliers. He also founded the non-profit Space for Humanity to increase humanity’s access to space.

Evan Dick

Evan is an engineer and investor. Managing Member of Dick Holdings, LLC, Evan is a hobby pilot, sailor, motorcyclist, and supporter of the Darwin Foundation as well as Population Relief International Corp.

Lane and Cameron Bess

Lane is the owner of the technology fund Bess Ventures and Advisory, and Cameron is a content creator who studied Computer Science and Game Design. Together, they will become the first parent-child pair to go to space.

The rocket

New Shepard is an 18-meter high single-stage suborbital launch vehicle built and operated by Blue Origin. It first flew in April 2015 and has performed 16 uncrewed and three crewed flights, including NS-19. 

The rocket is powered by a single BE-3 engine that runs on liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen and uses the combustion tap-off cycle to power the turbopumps. At liftoff, it produces 490 kN of thrust.

On top of the propulsion module sits the crew capsule, RSS First Step. The reusable capsule can carry up to six people to over 100 kilometers. It has an interior volume of 15 cubic meters and features a launch abort system in the form of a solid rocket motor built by Aerojet Rocketdyne

In the case of a failure of the propulsion module, the motor would be used to save the crew from the problematic booster.

The same rocket and capsule used for the crewed NS-16 flight in July (pictured) will be used for the NS-19 mission. (Credit: Jack Beyer for NSF)

The capsule features large windows for better views during the tourist spaceflight. The rocket itself does not feature human controls; during the flight, it is completely controlled by onboard computers.

The reusable propulsion module for NS-19 is the fourth built over the life of the program; this will be its fifth flight.

The flight

At approximately two minutes before launch, the access arm was pulled back from the rocket to clear a path for New Shepard to space. This is followed by fin and engine gimbal checks to verify their functionality before liftoff. 

At T0, the BE-3 engine ignited and built up to full thrust. After seven seconds of start-up and health checks, the launch clamps opened and New Shepard began its climb to space. 

Around 55 seconds after liftoff, the rocket passed through Max Q, the moment at which it experienced maximum stress as it accelerated through the atmosphere.

At T+2 minutes 21 seconds, the main engine shut down and the capsule separated a few seconds later. From here, the capsule’s occupants experienced three to five minutes of microgravity.

The NS3 booster landing at the end of its part of the NS-11 mission on 2 May 2019. (Credit: Blue Origin)

The next step for the booster after separation was to descend back toward the landing site, reignite its main engine, and deploy its landing legs for a retro-propulsive landing at T+7 minutes 30 seconds.

During this maneuver, the booster was able to hover as the BE-3 can throttle down low enough to allow such a maneuver.

After the booster landed, the crew capsule completed its return process, with the drogue chutes deploying to slow and stabilize the capsule in preparation for the deployment of the three main parachutes. 

These guided the capsule down to the surface, where just a second before touchdown, a retro-motor fired to further slow the capsule for landing. 

(Lead image: New Shepard lifts off its launch pad. Credit: Jack Beyer)

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