Earlier this week, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ private spaceflight company Blue Origin launched its suborbital New Shepard rocket and capsule, marking its first test flight in over a year. While the company still has a ways to go before launching commercial flights to space for people who can afford the tickets, Blue Origin took some baby steps toward that goal, and might have even taken the topical route when naming the dummy that took a ride on New Shepard on Tuesday – “Mannequin Skywalker.”
As noted by CNBC, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket was launched from its West Texas facility on Tuesday, with the crew capsule containing a dummy whose name drew inspiration from the Star Wars universe. With Star Wars: The Last Jedi a few days from premiering at that time, it appeared timely that the dummy was named “Mannequin Skywalker,” an obvious reference to Darth Vader’s birth name of Anakin Skywalker. New Shepard, on the other hand, was named after a real-life historical figure — former NASA astronaut Alan Shepard, who was the first American in space.
All in all, the test flight lasted about 10 minutes, with New Shepard reaching a peak altitude of 61.7 miles (99.39 kilometers) above sea level, or just below the threshold of 62.1 miles (100 kilometers) which is thought of as the “start of true space.” Several experiments and a circuit board and artwork from Colorado students were included in the 12 payloads that rode on New Shepard and safely returned back to Earth after the flight. And, as Bezos noted on Twitter after the flight was completed, Mannequin Skywalker was also in good shape, having had a “great ride” on Blue Origin’s suborbital rocket and capsule.
— SPACE.com (@SPACEdotcom) December 15, 2017
Two days after the launch, Blue Origin posted a video that showed the dummy from inside the capsule, strapped into a chair as New Shepard came ever so close to penetrating outer space in the truest sense. According to the Verge, the video may not give viewers a good enough sense of how people react to weightlessness, as Mannequin Skywalker is, for all intents and purposes, an inanimate dummy. But the mannequin’s presence was important, as it marked Blue Origin’s continued progress as it moves closer to launching manned test flights, and hopefully closer to its goal of sending non-astronauts to space via commercial flights.
According to Space.com, both the New Shepard booster and crew capsule are reusable, with the latter craft designed to hold six passengers as they take “short trips into space without entering Earth orbit.” As shown on the Mannequin Skywalker video, the capsule has the largest windows ever created for space travel. It can also make a safe landing via parachute, while the booster descends back to Earth and makes its own vertical landing. Neither Blue Origin nor Jeff Bezos has announced any information on how much their commercial flights may cost.