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Blue Origin Launch on Hold Again, Final Checks Underway. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired October 13, 2021 - 10:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN NEWSROOM: Great to have you with us this morning.

We've been so much about, especially for astronauts, part of what they would be thinking about in these moments would be not just that journey but their mission. And we talked about this a little bit earlier, but I know for you, there is a real mission to these launches and to what could come of this. What do you see coming out of a day like today?

JONATHAN MCDOWELL, ASTROPHYICIST, HARVARD SMITHSONIAN CENTER FOR ASTROPHYSICS: Well, I think we're really seeing a new phase in the history of space tourism. And I think a lot of people have forgotten that space tourism isn't new. It started in 2000 with billionaire Dennis Tito flying to the space station. But what's new now is these suborbital missions are -- they're a lower price point, maybe more people can afford to take them. And we're seeing this flight at the same time as there's a movie crew on board the International Space Station, a Russian movie crew, this Japanese billionaire preparing to fly to orbit. And so we're just seeing this rush of this new era of space tourism.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM (voice over): No question. We're watching the crew there get ready. It's called a shelter room there. We are just passing 30 minutes to launch time. All these steps are key. You noted, they had to take off those kind of little booties over your shoes. You want to keep, I would imagine, the capsule clean from dirt or dust.

Commander Hadfield, can you explain to us and to our viewers how important these final little prep steps are because, again, space is hard, and you don't want to get anything in the way of a successful launch?

COL. CHRIS HADFIELD (RET.), FMR. COMMANDER OF INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION (voice over): Well, I think one of the most important steps right now is that Bill Shatner just sat down. I mean, that's a 90- year-old that just climbed multi storeys. I mean, I really hope that at 90 years old, I'm as physically able as Bill is right now. So, I'm glad he's taking a moment to catch his breath.

But before Bernard and I flew, we go through a quarantine, and part of it is because we don't want to take disease up to a space station or something, but also it's a time to gather yourself and to get psychologically ready for the risk that you're about to take and the import to you personally of what it's going to mean to separate away.

And just before we launched, we got into a little square painted white room like that as well. And it's sort of the last goodbye step to Earth before you climb into the ship and go. So, I think that's just one more important phase before they're going to climb in, get on their backs and boldly go away from the atmosphere and out into the blackness of space. It's a good moment.

HILL (voice over): You just heard each one of them ring that bell as they went to walk through this tunnel, which says above it as they walked in, light this candle, as they make their way out there, a hug there, Audrey Powers.

It is quite a moment. I can only imagine what is going their minds as they take these final steps over there to get to the capsule.

Chris Hadfield, when you look at this and where this is taking us and the variety of the people who are on this flight chosen specifically, what is the importance, would you say, of these different passengers? We have Audrey Powers, who has extensive history both at NASA and at Blue Origins. You have got William Shatner, of course. I mean, we know the Star Trek history. But that brings a certain Hollywood element to it, with Chris Boshuizen, Glen DeVries.

When you have this very crew, what does that say about the future of space travel and space exploration?

HADFIELD: I think it's really important to notice that Chris, who is going to be there sitting beside Bill, Chris was inspired by the fictional role that Bill Shatner portrayed when Chris was growing up. And then Chris, he was colorblind, so he didn't have a chance to qualify for the old standards where you had to be an astronaut.

But he was involved. He got in to NASA, he worked for NASA and then he recognized there was tremendous business potential with the drop of cost to access to space. And he helped formed the company, Planet, that has hundreds and hundreds of little cameras that allow us to see and learn about the world every single day for what the North Koreans are up to and how we're changing the planet itself.

He turned that inspiration, and it's so lovely that they're actually beside each other, into a personal aspiration, which then became one of the leading space companies in the world. And that's just one guy's example of the motivation that an event like today can bring.

And so I think the variety of the crew that you see, it's each one of them, hopes and dreams and the successes they've had in life, all coming together to cross over into this moment, to do something that is still one of the rarest of human experiences.


And the human stories to me are obviously the most interesting and the ones that really matter. And I'm really delighted for all four of them.

SCIUTTO: A few statistics, they're going to go 62 miles high, just above what's known as the Karman Line, to get into space. The mission is going to take about ten minutes, with three minutes of weightlessness. Their speed at peak will be three times the speed of sound, that's more than 2,200 miles per hour, that as fast. They're going to feel a lot of Gs in those seats there.

As far as a ticket cost, we do know that William Shatner, he's comped, as it were, he's riding at an invitation of the company. Blue Origin has been somewhat coy about what its ticket price will be going forward, though they are now opening it up to the public.

Miles, I do want to ask you a question because there are good aspects to this. And I've asked Space Force directly. Are they happy to see private companies operating more in space? And they say they are. It gives them, for instance, more options to launch their satellites into space.

But there are questions, right, about what the regulations and controls are. How many folks are going up, not just for flights like this, but who can launch satellites. I mean, you've got microsatellites now, many of them up there as well. You even have countries, such as China and Russia, deploying weapons in space. Do we have a good handle? I mean, who is running things in space these days?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AEROSPACE ANALYST: It's kind of a Wild West thing. What mitigates against all this worry is space is a pretty big place. Having said that, routinely, the International Space Station has to nudge itself out of the way out of projectiles, which would clonk into it and potentially pierce that thin aluminum skin.

So, that's an issue that has to be rectified and just the control and the regulatory environment around these launches. Basically, the FAA has taken a fairly arm's length approach to this. In other words, if you're the person who's willing to strap themselves into this, sign all the waivers and go for the ride, go for it, they say. What they're worried about more in their regulatory mission is something happening that would land on the ground and hurt innocents.

Now, as time goes on and more and more people decide to become a part of this, that might change, right? We might have to think about a safety regimen which protects the passengers at some level. But it's a very risky proposition, space is. And so I don't know how that's all going to sort out. I do know this though, that it's -- too many regulations can make it very difficult to explore.

HILL (voice over): There are also questions too about the environmental impact, right? And while there's talk about cleaner fuels, the reality is there's a lot of waste generated. And, Miles, that's a concern too. Do you think that is getting enough attention? Is it being glossed over?

O'BRIEN (voice over): Well, I am a person who worries everyday about the climate emergency, don't get me wrong. But in the grand scheme of the carbon and the fossil fuels and the greenhouse gases we put in the environment, this is pretty much a pinprick.

Listen, there's a lot of weird optics here, like billionaires racing each other for bragging rights to go higher and farther and who gets William Shatner on there first, this kind of convergence between Hollywood and reality, between art and life. It's kind of messy right now in a way, as exciting as it is too.

And I think a lot of regular people are looking at it, scratching their heads going, what is this all about? I think as it unfolds, it will become a little more clear to people and it will become a little more routine. I suppose if we have the media environment we have today in the 1920s, when people were getting on Ford tri-motors, we might have had similar discussions.

SCIUTTO (voice over): Yes, Twitter in the 1920s, that would have been interesting. But there are genuine safety questions. Virgin Galactic, there was an investigation as to whether on their flights, they flew outside their assigned safety window, which is assigned in case there is an accident, so that you reduce the possibility that some of that debris might impact people on the ground. These are real questions that have to be asked and addressed.

Dr. Harris, again, we have you with us here, another experienced astronaut. Do you believe those safety questions for private companies like this have been addressed sufficiently?

DR. BERNARD HARRIS, FORMER NASA ASTRONAUT: I think a lot of this has been addressed. And that's because most of the private companies have learned lessons from NASA. Some of them have actually gotten technology advice, and as we see today. Also, NASA engineers are part of the commercial efforts in a number of these companies.


So, I think safety is at the top of mind for most of these companies.

To what Miles said a minute ago, as we have more and more people, and I kind of think of this as a gradation of where you've got astronauts that go into lower Earth orbit, you have the tourism effort that's happening now, we've got deep space flight. So, you've got to have this whole continuum where there's going to be this continuum of human beings at different aspects and different levels of space exploration.

And so that's going to really require the FAA, perhaps NASA, perhaps even the U.N. that's involved, that has committees that deal with space, to develop better regulation around this whole effort, because it's not going away. I tell people all the time, think about this, our kids that are growing up now will never know a world where there will be no one in space. From now, from this day forward, there will always be humans in space at some level, in lower Earth orbit, on the moon and Mars. And, to me, that's very exciting.

SCIUTTO (voice over): Absolutely, absolutely, stretching the frontier, right, Erica, each time.

HILL (voice over): Yes. And it is pretty remarkable to think about, right, that our kids watching right now won't remember a world without space -- without people in space, rather, as you said, Dr. Harris.

Jonathan McDowell, as we talk more about what we can learn from this, what are you most excited about today?

MCDOWELL (voice over): Well, I think, for me, it's really interesting that the people on this flight are not just random billionaires, right, as Chris, I think, said earlier. They are -- three of the four of them are people that the space community know really well. Obviously, everyone Shatner and Chris Boshuizen and Audrey Powers are --

SCIUTTO (voice over): Standby, Jonathan, for a moment, this is a communications check with the crew. Let's have a listen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And there they are, you got it there, the welcome from (INAUDIBLE), Kevin Sproke, all four astronauts in their seats, clear communications. You heard Astronaut Powell, Astronaut Lemley (ph). That is the call sign for William Shatner, Captain Kirk, reference to his children, to his family. Then, of course, (INAUDIBLE). And then, of course, our other customer, Astronaut DeVries, Glen DeVries, in the final --

SCIUTTO (voice over): Jonathan, apologies, we're listening there. it looks a little bit like a kind of modern day mission control, right, a little smaller than what we imagine from the NASA flights. But you were making a great point about this crew. Yes, there's William Shatner. But you've got three -- you have got some folks here, rock stars and science in space.

MCDOWELL (voice over): That's right, yes. I mean, Audrey Powers is not just a Blue Origin employee, she's been a force in the kind of new space community for many years, as was mentioned earlier, Chris Boshuizen together with Robbie Schingler and Will Marshall founded this amazing company, Planet, which is really -- for decades, we were talking about how small satellites would revolutionize the space business, but they actually made it happen. And so this is not just the random people who had an interest in space. They really contributed to the new space era that we have.

DeVries, he is the other guy that none of us know, but -- so he's maybe more the typical tourist that we'll see going to space in the longer term, the person with a lot of money who is just a fan.

HILL (voice over): Yes, the person with a lot of -- I mean, there has been such a focus on that aspect of it. But I do think it's important to point out, as you were just going through their resumes there, the real involvement that both Audrey Powers and Chris Boshuizen, who, as we just learned, his handle is apparently crispy because he also goes by crispy in his musical career, so as we were just listening in there, as we were doing the communications check.

So, the clock now T-minus 16 minutes. As we are told, they are just closing the hatch right now, you can see the picture there, up high in the sky after they climb those stairs, a little dark in that shot, but the hatch being closed as they prepare. Commander Chris Hadfield, just walk us through in these moments, right, hatch closes, there you are, I mean, you had a little bit more time obviously to sit there and wait before the launch.


But these 15 minutes or so, 16, 15 minutes, I would imagine those are going to feel kind of long.

HADFIELD (voice over): Yes, there's two things going on. One is you've got stuff to do. And that's getting all of the things configured right, getting those straps that are going to hold you securely, getting those done right, getting all your gear in the right place, all the stuff that they rehearsed for, that they trained for.

But then suddenly, there's nothing to do. And now all you really have to do is think and imagine about what's going to happen and listen to your heart actually starting to beat faster and faster. And our flight surgeons, our doctors, used to come on the loops just to sort of chat and talk with us because they're monitoring our heart.

And when I flew on the Russian rocket on my third space flight, they actually asked us, what music would you like us to play? And they tried to find something that would distract and soothe us. And that was coming through the headset in those 15 minutes before launch just to get everybody sort of centered and calm and ready for the violent events that are just about to happen.

SCIUTTO (voice over): By the way, who closed the hatch door? Someone you might recognize, Jeff Bezos, owns the company. He was the one with the wrench there, tightening it up.

Dr. Bernard Harris, former NASA astronaut, first African-American to walk in space, we understand coming up is a pressure test. You get a lot of tests leading up to launch. And here we are -- wait, I just noticed something there. That H there and the clock counting up means another hold at 15 minutes. You'll remember this is our second hold this morning now in the last hour, held about a half hour or so, I think, as they dealt with a vehicle readiness issue. We don't know what's causing this hold here. It's a short one so far.

But, Dr. Harris, as you watch this, any significance to each of these holds?

HARRIS: Well, you know, I don't know the profile, launch profile of this vehicle, but in the shuttle program, which I flew, we had built- in holds along the way. And those holds allowed us to make sure that the systems were correct, that they were used for system checks. So this may be the reason why they're having a hold. I don't know. I guess we'll find out in a few minutes.

And so all of this in rocketry and launches is sort of a normal process where you have these checks and balances along the way because you want to make sure that things go right. In our world, when things go wrong, we call it a bad day. And a bad day is one that you may or may not walk from. So, you want to make sure that you get everything right.

HILL (voice over): Definitely want to make sure that happens. Blue Origin just tweeting that final checks are under way.

Miles, as you're watching this, I'm just thinking to how exciting this must be for you to watch it, knowing how much this means to you and how invested you are in space and what it could mean moving forward. As we've got these 15 minutes, a little bit more now with that, what are you most interested in today with this particular launch, Miles?

O'BRIEN: Well, I'm interested in it being a safe and enjoyable ride, number one. And the thrill of seeing Bill Shatner do this is great. I will point out that there is a character in the Star Trek series by the name of Miles O'Brien. I guess they stole my name. So, I really feel like I should be on board with him as part of the Star Trek themed launch. But somehow my invitation got lost in the mail.

I do think each of these flights, incrementally, as they pull them off safely, we all watch, we all embrace it, we all have some fun with it. Each of them leads us to making this more of a truly routine thing, I think.

SCIUTTO (voice over): By the way, Miles, don't try to squeeze in on my very public campaign to get an invitation on space, just for you to --

HILL: I don't know if you've caught that. Jim has been putting a hard-pressed on the last few days.

SCIUTTO: Miles clearly deserves it more than me.

Chris Hadfield, again, you've been on multiple space missions. For folks at home, we're used to flight checks, right? Every time you take off in a commercial airliner, the pilots upfront, they are running through a flight check. And you might have experienced a delay before as they check for a warning light that is on, et cetera. I just imagine you might say that the flight checks, Commander Hadfield, are on steroids for a space flight because it's, by its nature, a higher tech and a more difficult thing to do.

HADFIELD: Yes. Their launch control team is sitting there. And earlier when we had the sort of vague hold, there's pressurized hydrogen, which is the molecules are so tiny that it's really hard to build seals that will hold, pressurized oxygen. And they're looking at how all of those things are functioning as the gases get further down the pipes and closer to the engine. They are the fronts (ph) that are really working on those close in-checks --


SCIUTTO (voice over): Stand by for a moment, special message from mission control to the crew.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dear travelers, you have probably been playing this moment over and over in thoughts and also quite often in real life in the case of Mr. Shatner. But now, the moment is there, the moment you're really going to space. And I can assure you that it will be better than your best imagination.

No day passes by that we don't look back on this journey without having a smile from ear to ear. Have a safe flight and enjoy. Greetings from your youngest predecessor, Oliver Daemen.

New Shepard Astronaut Wally Funk says, I hope this flight will be the most fantastic experience of your life as it was mine. Take time to enjoy every aspect of this journey from liftoff to touchdown. Jeff has done a magnificent job of ensuring the smoothest, most memorable ride and Kevin and Sarah are top-notch instructors.

Becoming part of the Blue Origin family is an honor like none other I have received. Together, let's cross new boundaries and set new records. I will be watching your liftoff with great enthusiasm and sending my best wishes. God speed, Audrey, Bill, Glen and Chris. Much love, Wally.

New Shepard astronaut demo whose real name is Mark Bezos has this to say. You lucky bastards. It was only ten weeks ago that I was sitting where you are watching the countdown clock full of anticipation and excitement, eager to feel the rumble of liftoff and the majesty of weightlessness.

The depth of my desire to fly again is hard to express, so allow me to quote from the classic of the great American song book Mr. Spaceman with lyrics by William Shatner. Hey, Mr. Spaceman, won't you please take me along. I won't do anything wrong. Hey, Mr. Spaceman, won't you please take me along for a ride? God speed, New Shepard, I can't wait to hear your stories. Mark.

HILL (voice over): So, you're just hearing messages there from the members of the last New Shepard launch. You heard a note from Oliver Daemen who, at 18, was the youngest to go up, saying, now the moment is there. I can assure you, it will never be better than your best imagination.

And Wally Funk, who, at 82, finally achieved her dream of going into space, well, now, she'll no longer the oldest person to achieve that, William Shatner, of course, at 90. She said it's the most fantastic experience of your life. I hope it is, as it was mine.

Remember, she was part of a group of female pilots. They were testing to see if women were fit for space travel. She ultimately never went. And there was so much made of her journey at the time and the dream that that really achieved for her, all of what she had done in her life was really something.

And then we also heard from Mark Bezos, of course, brother of Jeff, who said, you lucky bastards. He is clearly a little jealous this morning, Jim, really enjoyed his trip ten weeks ago. And he wants them all to know that he thinks he should be there with them this morning.

So, those messages being sent, being read to this crew as they prepare and as they wait for that launch, Jim.

SCIUTTO: No question. And, again, that hold still in place coming up above eight minutes. Other than that, the crew is in that capsule there. You can see, I believe that's William Shatner through that window there.

We're awaiting updates to see if and when it will be taken off hold. While we do await those updates, we're going to take a short break. Please stay with us. We're going to be right back.



HILL (voice over): Live pictures here. We're waiting on the launch for Blue Origin, these pictures coming out of West Texas, of course. You see the clock stopped at exactly 15 minutes. Underneath it, you see the hold clock there. This is the second hold that we've seen this morning. Clock ticking there at about 13 minutes for this particular hold. The first one we were told was due to some vehicle readiness checks. We will see what we learn about this one. Waiting for more information from Blue Origin on that.

But the capsule is loaded. The crew is in, including, of course, William Shatner.


There we see mission control essentially.