Blue Origin has blasted America’s first black astronaut into space 62 years after NASA passed him up – and breaks a record in the process. Olivia Palamountain reports

In May 2024, Jeff Bezos’ space tourism company Blue Origin successfully completed its seventh human spaceflight and the 25th flight for the New Shepard programme.

The NS-25 mission departed from west Texas, marking Blue Origin’s first crewed spaceflight since 2022 when its New Shepard rocket was grounded due to a mid-flight failure. New Shepard has now flown 37 people into space.

Named after astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American in space, New Shepard is a fully autonomous (there are no pilots), reusable, suborbital rocket system innovated for human flight.

Over the course of the 11-minute journey, passengers soar past the Kármán line, the internationally recognised boundary of space, experiencing several minutes of weightlessness and witnessing life-changing views of Earth.

The crew on the NS-25 mission included Ed Dwight, a former Air Force captain who was selected by President John F Kennedy in 1961 as the nation’s first black astronaut candidate but never had the opportunity to fly. At 90 years old, Dwight is now the oldest person to reach the edge of space.

As reported by The Guardian, following touchdown, Dwight exited the capsule, pumped his fist in the air and said: “I thought I really didn’t need this in my life but now I need this in my life. I am ecstatic … It was a life-changing experience. Everybody needs to do this.”

Dwight’s seat was sponsored by Space for Humanity, a non-profit organisation dedicated to expanding space access.

Other crew members aboard the flight included the venture capitalist Mason Angel, craft brewery founder Sylvain Chiron, software engineer Kenneth Hess, retired CPA Carol Schaller and pilot Gopi Thotakura.

“A big thank you to our astronaut customers for the opportunity to provide this life-changing experience,” said Phil Joyce, senior vice-president of New Shepard. “Each of you are pioneers helping to advance our mission to build a road to space for the benefit of Earth.”

How much is a seat on New Shepard? Blue Origin is famously cagey about its pricing strategy and doesn’t advertise price information on its flight reservation page.

As reported by Observer, passengers say they have paid from zero to nearly US$30 million. Industry insiders say Blue Origin’s ticket price is tailored to individual passengers based on a variety of factors.

“It’s not about money; it’s about who you are, your social capital, whether you align with their launch purposes. It’s kind of a package deal,” says Roman Chiporukha, co-founder of SpaceVIP, a platform that helps the wealthy book space trips, including Blue Origin’s.

Find out how you can join a New Shepard flight as an astronaut or fly a payload on a future mission on the Blue Origin website.