Today’s breed of billionaire space entrepreneurs likes to keep us guessing, don’t they? Mr. Elon Musk is famous for announcing partial plans on Twitter, then leaving us to cajole the details out of him. Now, Jim Bezos, Amazon founder and Blue Origin visionary, is making us guess what an upcoming mysterious announcement might mean, all on the tails of another successful flight for New Shepard.
The eleventh flight of the New Shepard rocket went off without a hitch today at its West Texas launch facility. The booster returned to its launch pad and performed a safe landing, and the capsule returned safely via parachute. This flight carried a total of 38 micro-gravity science experiments into sub-orbital space, 9 of them supported by NASA.
These flights are getting to be routine, when you consider all the reusable rocket flights by SpaceX, too. So what’s next for Blue Origin?
The company has more planned commercial flights on the books. Coolest of all, they expect to fly passengers into space. Their crew capsule will take six passengers, or astronauts as Blue Origin likes to call them, on a journey up to the Karman line. The Karman line is considered the boundary between space and the Earth’s atmosphere, at 100 km (60 miles) altitude.
Passengers will experience weightlessness, and then they’ll buckle themselves back into their seats and enjoy the capsule ride back down to Earth with parachute deployed.
But Blue Origin might have more up their sleeves, and a recent cryptic Tweet has people wondering what that might be.
That’s a picture of the Endurance. It was the ship that Sir Ernest Shackleton sailed to the Antarctic in 1914. Shackleton was one of main dudes in what is termed the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. He went to the Antarctic three times, leading a British expedition each time. He actually died on an Antarctic expedition and is buried on the nearby South Georgia island.
The other intriguing thing about the tweet is the date. It says 5.9.19, which in US format means May 9th, 2019. Only days away. So what’s up?
As of this writing, that’s one week away. So expect an announcement next Thursday. And the picture of the Endurance? It’s one of the most iconic ships in the history of human exploration, used to explore one of the most difficult to reach places on Earth. In terms of sailing ships, Antarctica is the most challenging place to explore. Shackleton got the Endurance stuck in pack ice and had to make a 720 nautical mile in lifeboats to reach safety. That’s what he’s most famous for.
It’s gotta be the Moon, doesn’t it?
Back in the late 1800s and the early 1900s, the Antarctic was largely unexplored and was a difficult and challenging destination. Ten countries launched 17 major expeditions to Antarctica during what’s termed the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. This was all before major advancements in ships and in communications changed exploration forever. But during the Heroic Age, these Antarctic expeditions were feats of endurance and, let’s be honest here, manhood.
Nowadays, it’s the Moon that requires feats of endurance, training, preparation, boldness, and manhood and womanhood. It’s the obvious next target for Blue Origin. (It can’t be Mars. They’re not ready for that yet, are they?)
Prior announcements from Blue Origin suggests that a Moon mission will be announced. They’re already developing a robotic lander that they’ve named Blue Moon. That lander will land on the Moon similar to the way Blue Origin lands on Earth, and will reportedly be able to carry 10,000 pounds. And then there’s New Armstrong.
New Armstrong is the new rocket being developed by Blue Origin. Let’s face it, with a name like New Armstrong, what else can it be for except the Moon?
One idea bandied about on Twitter is the Shackleton Crater, named after Ernest and located on the Moon’s south pole. Might that be a destination? That seems a little too obvious, though the crater has lots of water ice in it, and some say it’s a great spot for a potential base. But I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.
Whatever it is, it’s bound to be interesting and exciting. Stay tuned until next Thursday.
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