The eldest daughter of pioneering U.S. astronaut Alan Shepard blasted off aboard Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin commercial space tourism rocket on Saturday, 60 years after her late father’s famed suborbital NASA flight at the dawn of the Space Age.
Laura Shepard Churchley, 74, who was a schoolgirl when her father first streaked into space, was one of six passengers buckled into the cabin of Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft as it lifted off from a launch site outside the west Texas town of Van Horn.
The crew capsule at the top of the fully autonomous, six-story-tall spaceship is designed to soar to an altitude of about 350,000 feet (106 km) before falling back to Earth, descending under a canopy of parachutes to the desert floor for a gentle landing.
The entire flight, from liftoff to touchdown, was expected to last a little more than 10 minutes, with the crew experiencing a few minutes of weightlessness at the very apex of the suborbital flight.
The spacecraft itself is named for Alan Shepard, who in 1961 made history as the second person, and the first American, to travel into space—a 15-minute suborbital flight as one of NASA’s original “Mercury Seven” astronauts. A decade later, Shepard walked on the moon as commander of the Apollo 14 mission, famously hitting two golf galls on the lunar surface.
Churchley was one of two honorary, non-paying guest passengers chosen by Blue Origin for Saturday’s flight. The other is Michael Strahan, 50, a retired National Football League star and co-anchor of ABC television’s “Good Morning America” show.
They were joined by four lesser-known, wealthy customers who paid undisclosed but presumably hefty sums for their New Shepard seats—space industry executive Dylan Taylor, engineer-investor Evan Dick, venture capitalist Lane Bess and his 23-year-old son, Cameron Bess. The Besses made history as the first parent-child pair to fly in space together, according to Blue Origin.