Former American football star and TV celebrity Michael Strahan has taken a ride to space with Jeff Bezos’s rocket-launching company, sharing the trip with the daughter of America’s first astronaut.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket blasted off from West Texas, sending the capsule on a 10-minute flight with the two VIP guests and four paying customers.
Their automated capsule soared to an altitude of 66 miles, providing a few minutes of weightlessness before parachuting into the desert. The booster also came back to land successfully.
It was five minutes and 50 miles shorter than Alan Shepard’s Mercury flight from Florida’s Cape Canaveral on May 5 1961.
His eldest daughter, Laura Shepard Churchley, took a tiny piece of his Freedom 7 capsule as well as mementos from his Apollo 14 moonshot. She also packed some golf balls; her father hit a couple on the lunar surface.
Good Morning America host Strahan bubbled over with excitement in updates for the show all week. He took his Super Bowl winner’s ring and New York Giants jersey No 92.
Mr Bezos stashed a football on board that will go to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“It was unreal,” Strahan said after emerging from the capsule.
He said he wants to go again — but Mr Bezos joked he would have to buy his own ticket next time.
The Amazon boss, who has already flown to space in the same capsule, accompanied the six passengers to the launch pad near Van Horn and greeted them afterwards.
He had “Light this candle” painted on the launch tower’s bridge, borrowing from Alan Shepard’s famous gripe from inside Freedom 7 as the delays mounted: “Why don’t you fix your little problem and light this candle?”
Ms Shepard Churchley — who volunteered for Blue Origin’s third passenger flight — borrowed her late father’s phrase, yelling “Let’s light this candle!” while awaiting take-off.
Fierce wind had held up the flight for two days.
She heads the board of trustees for the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.
“He was working. He had to do it himself. I went up for the ride.”
Saturday’s launch was the last one this year by private US companies as space tourism finally takes off.
Virgin Galactic kicked it off in July, sending up its billionaire founder Sir Richard Branson, followed by Blue Origin and SpaceX.
Mr Bezos, who founded Amazon six years before Blue Origin, was on his company’s debut launch in July.
The second, in October, included actor William Shatner — Captain Kirk of TV’s original Star Trek. The late Leonard Nimoy’s daughter sent up a necklace with a Vulcan Salute charm on Saturday’s flight, in honour of the show’s original Mr Spock.
Also flying were Voyager Space chairman and chief executive Dylan Taylor and investor Evan Dick.
Blue Origin dedicated Saturday’s launch to Glen de Vries, who launched into space with Shatner in October, but died a month later in a plane crash.