Blue Origin launches first US Black astronaut candidate to space in its first human spaceflight in 2 years

The New Shepard 25 mission launched Ed Dwight, considered NASA’s first Black astronaut candidate, and five others to the edge of space. Blue Origin launched the capsule from the company’s West Texas launch site on Sunday morning.

VAN HORN, Texas – Blue Origin successfully launched six people to the edge of space from Texas on Sunday, marking the private space company’s first human spaceflight since 2022.

The mission launched from Van Horn, sending former U.S. Air Force test pilot Ed Dwight and five others to the edge of space in the New Shepard capsule. 

Dwight, now 90 years old, was selected by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to train under the U.S. Air Force program that would later produce NASA's first astronauts. Ultimately, he wasn't chosen to advance into NASA's astronaut program. It would take another 20 years before Guion Bluford Jr. would become NASA's first Black astronaut.

The launch window opened at 8:30 a.m. CT. After several holds in the countdown, New Shepard blasted off at 9:35 a.m. CT.

After reaching 347,464 feet above the Earth, allowing the crew to experience weightlessness and see the blackness of space, the capsule returned to Earth. One of the three New Shepard parachutes did not inflate, but Blue Origin's Vice President of In-Space Systems Ariane Cornell said the chute system is designed with redundancy and can land safely with two parachutes. 

The capsule landed in the Texas desert, sending up a large plume of dirt, and Blue Origin teams helped the new space explorers out of their spacecraft. 

Back on Earth, Dwight said he had been telling himself for over 60 years he didn't need spaceflight in his life, "but now I really need this in my life."

He described the experience as "life-changing" and said, "Everybody needs to do this."

Blue Origin provided Dwight with specialty eyewear for his spaceflight to help him see the views from space.

Dwight told Blue Origin's Crew Member 7 that not being selected for NASA's astronaut program was the first thing he was involved in throughout his life that he "didn't have success at." He felt it was unfinished business until his spaceflight on Sunday.

The launch marked Blue Origin's first human spaceflight since a September 2022 uncrewed mission ended in an emergency abort. After a joint investigation with the Federal Aviation Administration, the company returned to flight in December, launching an uncrewed capsule with low-gravity research. 

NS-25 was the seventh human spaceflight for the New Shepard program.

Blue Origin has launched more than 30 paying customers above the Karman line, the internationally recognized boundary of space, for an 11-minute experience in zero gravity. 

The nonprofit Space for Humanity covers the cost of space tourism flights to help more people experience what astronauts call the "overview effect." The organization has sponsored four seats with Blue Origin, including Dwight's.

The other passengers on New Shepard's 25th flight included individuals involved in business, exploration, amateur farming and philanthropy.