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Blue Origin Launch on Hold Again, Final Checks Underway; Blue Origin Crew Preparing for Launch. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired October 13, 2021 - 10:30   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN NEWSROOM (voice over): There we see mission control, essentially. We've been listening in a little bit to their communications as well, Jim, as we wait for some more information at this point about that hold.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM (voice over): Back with us now, Chris Hadfield, former Commander of the International Space Station, Miles O'Brien, of course, CNN Space Analyst, as well as Jonathan Martin, who is an astrophysicist. But we have Kristin Fisher on the ground -- McDowell, Jonathan McDowell. We have Kristin Fisher on the ground.

The company was, it seemed, deliberately vague about the reason for the previous launch hold, just stating the phrase, vehicle readiness. Have you gotten -- has the company provided any more information about this hold?

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: No new information whatsoever from the company. Of course, holds not uncommon, but you have to wonder what exactly the holdup is here.

But I just can't stop thinking about what it must be like for William Shatner sitting inside this capsule right now. I mean, here is one who has spent so much of his life, so much of his life so closely tied to space, his life, his legacy, and yet he's never actually been to space. Now, here he is just minutes away from that becoming a reality.

And when there was this first wind delay, he talked about how much that delay extended his feelings of excitement and sheer terror. So, you have to imagine that those feelings are even more heightened now that he's actually sitting on top of this, essentially what's a controlled explosive about to launch him and three others into space.

And when they get there, they're going to be going about 62 miles up. And William Shatner and the other crew members said that they wanted to spend their precious four minutes or so of weightlessness with their faces pressed against the windows of this capsule, really taking in the views of Planet Earth.

That is what the crew of this New Shepard mission says that they hope to do if and when they finally get up into space, if this countdown clock ever starts going again. Then they will fall back down to Earth with the assistance, of course, of gravity and the assistance of those three big parachutes.

But, Jim, one other very important thing to point out here, in addition to a rocket launch, which should be going in about 15 minutes if this hold ever stops, we're also going to get to see a booster landing, which was once described as one of the rarest of beasts. Just until a few years ago, this is something that was truly the stuff of science fiction, much like Captain Kirk and Star Trek and the Starship Enterprise.

And yet now, one more example of science fiction becoming reality with companies like Blue Origins and Elon Musk's SpaceX coming up with this incredible technology to reuse these boosters, to land them back on Planet Earth and ultimately make space flight much more affordable for everyday people and everyday customers, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Kristin Fisher, thanks so much.

We should note, the company has not explained the reason for this second delay, as they did not provide much detail on the first. And, Erica, as we've noted prior, it's a private company, not subject to the same standards that we would see from, say, NASA in a similar situation.

HILL: It's true, but it definitely makes for a different experience, as you're watching this.

Miles, I'm thinking back to -- if we think about other launches -- I mean, I'm remembering the final shuttle launch, which I have to say I was lucky enough to cover, you think about all the communication that you do have and that window you have that comes from the audio that you hear. This is yet another reminder of just how different this space exploration, this private space exploration is, Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AEROSPACE ANALYST: Yes, it's hard to be a space reporter these days, I think. At the risk of sounding like the old guy on the porch, in my day, we used to know some things. And I remember after I left CNN, I was on the NASA Advisory Council for a little while, and I was pushing NASA to insist that SpaceX and Elon Musk opened the doors a little more to data and to the flight loops, as we call it, the communications among the team, in advance of the launches because those launches, after all, are paid for by taxpayers.

Now, In this case today, there's no taxpayer money involved in this launch at all and Jeff Bezos can release as much or as little information as he likes. Maybe reporters need to get Prime Access to information for extra money? I don't know.

SCIUTTO: That's a fair point. And, by the way, this may be notable. The vehicles you see going away from the launch site there, we've just been told that the tower crew has now left the launch site there, may be significant. And there you go. The hold appears to have just been lifted. We're back to T-minus below 15 minutes for the launch. So, the second hold on this launch lifted now.

[10:35:01] Commander Hadfield, I don't want to jinx anything, right, because other questions could come up between now and then, but this is progress. Tell us the significance of that, and does it look likely now that the launch will go off?

COL. CHRIS HADFIELD, FMR. COMMANDER OF INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION: Yes. Whenever you see a hold that's at an even number, like 15 minutes, then you know it's a planned hold. And what they were waiting for, just like for my two space shuttle launches, you have to wait for the closeout crew to gather all their stuff, to get back in their vehicle and get far enough away so that if the rocket explodes, they now that they're at least going to be safe. And that's exactly what just happened. You can actually see the two trucks sort of pulled over there on that wide concrete apron.

So, they were just following their procedures. And today, it took them 15 minutes to do that final closeout. But the important part is the clock is now ticking through 14 minutes. And in 14 minutes, my buddy Bill, Captain Kirk, is about to go to space. And I'm really with him mentally. What a cool experience for such a guy.

HILL (voice over): Your buddy, Bill, for folks who are just joining us, you two go back a little ways. You communicated while you were up at the ISS. And as I understand it, you've been texting leading up to this launch. He has been very public about how excited he is, but also he said he's even a little terrified. He's comfortable, but uncomfortable. How do you think he's feeling in this moment?

HADFIELD: If he wasn't uncomfortable and slightly terrified, then he just wouldn't know what was going on. I mean, what's really about to happen is an enormous bomb is going to ignite underneath him, but it's a bomb that we've learned how to control so that the energy comes out over about a two-minute period out the nozzles, out the back. So, if you're sitting with three new friends sitting on a bomb waiting and trusting engineers that you've never met to have done the math right, of course, he's going to be a little worried.

But at some point you've just got to go, okay, this is about to happen. And I'm along for the ride. And now, as you say, I'm going to put a bunch of nose marks on the window as I see what this new view is going to show me. And Bill is thinking, okay, how am I going to get out of my seat on time and how am I going to make the most and maybe do a couple flips in weightlessness. He's probably got all those little gremlins of thoughts running around his 90-year-old head right now.

HILL: He'll have to do the flip.

SCIUTTO: You do, for sure. It's a great point about the technology, the super technology of space, right? This is a controlled -- a sustained controlled explosion, right, over many minutes to get that rocket up there. You mentioned his friends, William Shatner's friends, and I want to get your impressions of them, Jonathan McDowell, because I had to interrupt you a couple of times as we got updates from mission control. Audrey Powers, I mean, the flight controller for NASA for some 2,000 hours, she now involved directly in the safety protocols for getting this into space. Dr. Chris Boshuizen, he also served in NASA's aims, research centers. He now works for a company called Planet Labs. But Glen DeVries, he's with Metadata Solution.

So, from your perspective, you said earlier, astrophysicists, they know these people. Tell us why you know the other members of the crew.

JONATHAN MCDOWELL, ASTROPHYICIST, HARVARD-SMITHSONIAN CENTER FOR ASTROPHYSICS: Well, the great thing about the space community these days is that people do know each other. There's a whole generation that grew up with Chris and Audrey who networked early in their careers and were inspired by the earlier generations of astronauts, like Chris and Bernard.

And so they had this vision of really transforming space travel, making this new era where satellites are cheaper, launches are cheaper and ordinary people might be able to go to space. And so I think that everyone is -- feels part of a family in that respect. And so they've been raring to go all their lives. Now they're managing to do this, we feel like we're a bit along there with them.

These last-minute holds, they're frustrating, they go back to the beginning of the space age, right, when Alan Shepard had a last-minute hold on his launch and he was frustratingly saying to mission control, let's light this candle, which we saw earlier on the gangway.

So, I think that's what they're feeling right now, let's light this candle and let's get on our ride that we've been preparing all our lives for.

HILL (voice over): Kristin, you were pointing out earlier, which I think is so interesting, that in the U.S., this will make for six -- six crewed launches in the last six months. And that's an important milestone as we're looking more at private companies and space exploration and how the industry -- how the game, frankly, is changing.

FISHER: It's just remarkable how quickly it has all come together, right? I mean, for people that ho don't follow this closely, it's like, wow, this just came out of nowhere. But this is a moment, this year, 2021, is a moment that the commercial space industry has really been building towards for decades.


SpaceX, Blue Origin, they've both been around for almost 20 years. And now within literally the last year for Blue Origin, just the last three months, they are finally really beginning to send NASA astronauts in SpaceX's case and paying customers in Blue Origin's case up into space.

And so you heard Chris, one of the crew members on this flight, talk about how he really felt like it was not fair to call this crew tourists. He said we still believe that we are pioneers because we're at the very beginning of this new wave of space tourism. But make no mistake, he believes that 2021 is the year that is going to go down in history as the year when humanity really began stepping off this planet en masse or at scale. And it's just the very beginning of it, but it is a very important milestone.

And you also have, you know, what we just saw -- and actually I believe we're beginning the final checks right now if you guys want to hear them, mission control going through all the various systems.

HILL (voice over): And we're going to listen in, Kristin. I think we're going to listen into those right now from mission control.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As you heard it, we are go for launch, go for second human flight. I am so excited --

HILL (voice over): And there, we just heard it, go for launch, Jim.

SCIUTTO (voice over): I think I heard William Shatner. I think I recognize his voice there saying something to the effect of, I guess we're ready to go. Listen, they're about to rocket into space in excess of 2,200 miles an hour. They're going to go 62 miles high.

Chris Hadfield, Commander Hadfield, we have the advantage of speaking to someone who has experienced that very force. I felt butterflies. What are the butterflies like in a launch?

HADFIELD (voice over): They take you over. I felt so aware and so excited. I had gotten over the fear part of it years before because this was a thing that I was definitely going to do. Now, my job was to get good at it. But on that morning, you're hyper aware. You know the moments in your life when something really significant is happening and you're like on super record mode because everything you think about, none of them are thinking about paying their taxes or their car insurance or what they're going to do a week from Tuesday. Right now, their whole existence is the next 15 minutes of their life. And so that's what they're feeling. You're tingling with the excitement of it and the anticipation of it and the palpable danger of it.

And I had stuff to do helping to fly the space shuttle, but these folks, they are -- they're sitting by their window anticipating this event, along for an amazing ride.

HILL (voice over): Dr. Bernard Harris, former NASA Astronaut as well, was with us a short time ago. One of the things that he mentioned -- I think it was Dr. Harris, so correct if I was wrong there, but talking about as you're waiting in this moment, even songs played that would be played to pump you up. Commander Hadfield, was there a certain tune?

HADFIELD (voice over): I grew up -- I'm Canadian, like Bill Shatner. And I grew up with Gordon Lightfoot. And there's a song he wrote called, If You Could Read My Mind, Love. And it's so beautiful and lilting, and it soars up and then comes back down again. And it's a really thoughtful, sort of philosophical set of lyrics.

So, I was lying on my back in the same launch pad as Yuri Gagarin launched from 60 years ago, and listening to, If You Could Read My Mind, Love. And it was soothing for me. I don't what music is playing in these four folks' heads.

SCIUTTO: Well, I hope someone is thinking Rocket Man. You have to imagine.

Miles O'Brien, we are T-minus under six minutes now to launch. Describe what happens in the next less than six minutes here?

O'BRIEN: Well, we're going to unleash a lot of power from that liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The fuel is quite volatile. When you think about what rockets do, they take the coldest thing we know of, which is liquid hydrogen, run it through a bunch of turbo pumps that are hyper fast, can fill up swimming pools in the blink of an eye, and then turn that in to fire. And all of that is happening in short order in a short, confined space.

And when you really start to think about that, you wonder how that happens at all. And, frankly, if I'm Bill Shatner right now, I'm not trying to think too much about that because it's much easier to fly in the Enterprise, which was, after all, a cardboard model shot against a box screen at Hollywood, right?


And I've got to say one word here about the intersection of Hollywood and reality here. For years and years and years, people would come and visit NASA and they would say, so where is the zero gravity room where we can be weightless, and that doesn't exist, and why don't you go at warp speed? In other words, the reality never was as good as what we saw on the silver screen.

And here, we're having this confluence point where Hollywood meets the reality and the reality is still a long way behind warp speed. We saw last week, a week or so ago, when the Inspiration 4 crew went to space, one of the crew members was sick for most of the occasion, the toilet didn't work so well. It's not as utopian as Star Trek, which after all a utopia, where humans didn't kill humans and they didn't even have money.

So, reality meets Hollywood here and we're still trying to have the realities catch up to the science fiction vision. Having Shatner here at this pivot point, maybe that will change the trajectory.

HILL: It's such an interesting point. We are now under four minutes, if my eyes have not failed me because that screen is a little far away.

Kristin, as we -- taking what Miles was just saying there too about how different this is from what people may imagine, sort of like probably how a doctor feels about watching a medical show, this is still a really important moment. And I find it interesting that these last two flights, right, are breaking their own records. We had Wally Funk who, at 82, who was the oldest. And we have William Shatner at 90. How much of that interest, right, is coming from the way that these launches have been crewed? FISHER: Well, I think it's very deliberate, right? These billionaire owners of these companies, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, they are acutely aware of the criticism that has been coming their way from much of the population, accusing them of just going on these joy rides into space and just taking money from these very, very wealthy patrons. So they very deliberately trying to cast these crews, if you will.

With somebody like William Shatner, who would get a lot of people excited, with someone like Wally Funk, who so deserved a seat on there as one of those Mercury 13 astronauts, so to speak, who never got to fly in space. So, Jeff Bezos, I believe, very aware of the criticism that's coming his way. But he believes, along with Elon Musk and Richard Branson, that they are doing something that is ultimately going to better all of human kind. It's just these very wealthy patrons that they believe have to pave the way.

SCIUTTO (voice over): And one measure of the fact that this is a business, as we approach T-minus two minutes to launch is all the various ways to observe it. This is a drone shot around -- this is a company that wants to show it as it happens. What's happening right now, in fact, I think you can see it there in this shot, is the tower connection to the capsule, to the rocket, is being pulled back. These are all part of the rocket's built-in checks and steps pre-launch, again as we approach just about a minute-and-a-half here.

Commander Hadfield, what's happening inside that capsule right now as these final checks go into place?

HADFIELD (voice over): All eight eyeballs in there have just flicked over to watch that walkway pulled away, because this is for real now. This is no longer talking about it. This is opening night. And so everybody is watching that and recognizing, wow, I've got one minute left on Earth. Hopefully, everything is about to go well.

SCIUTTO (voice over): All right. Let's listen in to mission control as we go through the final in three, two, one -- T-minus one minute, you heard it there. Let's listen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And there, you can just see slightly there the gimbaling engine at the base of the rocket.

All right, everybody, Chris Boshuizen, Glen DeVries, Audrey Powers and William Shatner are about to go where very few humans have gone before. Ladies and gentlemen, it's time to launch this rocket. God speed, New Shepard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: T-minus ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, two, one five, four, two, one.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New Shepard has cleared the tower. She is on her space with the second human space flight crew. What a launch. We are on our way to max Q, the first milestone on its flight to space.

You can follow along obviously with the altimeter at the base of the screen as well as the speedometer. They are gaining speed on their climb to space. We have confirmed max Q. This is when the aerodynamic stresses on the vehicle were at their maximun.

Thank you again everybody for joining us live for New Shepard's second human flight with Audrey Powers, William Shatner, our customers Glen DeVries and Chris Boshuizen on board. They are well on their way to space. So far, a nominal flight, a clean burn on our Blue Engine 3, New Shepard giving them a beautiful flight to space this morning.

The rocket is climbing towards an altitude. We're aiming just over the Karman Line, the internationally recognized line of space of 100 kilometers, that is about 328,000 feet, and a gorgeous view down the rocket.

And now, we've had main engine cutoff, the B.E. 3 engine has shut off. And in just a moment, we're going to separate the capsule from the booster. And at that point, our astronauts will have an opportunity to get out of their harnesses and enjoy the beauties of zero G. Let's wait to listen.

And there you can see a clean separation between the capsule and the booster. And there you can see the capsule from the top of the booster. They are continuing their ascent over the Karman Line. You'll know when they hit apogee when the speed hits zero.

And there they are, over 328,000 feet, over 100 kilometers. Welcome to space, the newest astronauts on board our crew capsule.

And there they are. They have just about hit the apogee at about 351,000 feet. And while we don't have apogee, I can just imagine, Jackie, they are having the time of their lives.

Thank you again everybody from joining us live from West Texas. So far, a nominal flight for our second human crew.


So exciting, Jackie, to have sent Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, to space. I cannot wait to hear his commentary upon return, as well as our two customers, Chris Boshuizen from Australia, to all the fans tuning in from down under, a big shout-out to you guys, as well as Glen DeVries and our very own Audrey Powers. They are coming back home.

The booster, of course, is going to beat the capsule back home. It is more aerodynamically shaped, of course, at the base of the capsule. It's kind of a blunt end, so it's less aerodynamic. What we're going to see coming up shortly is at the top of the rocket, we have the ring fin. There is some m-- what we call the pie fins that extend from the ring fin as well as the drag brakes. The pie fins, the wedge fins help stabilize the vehicle, kind of like the feathers at the back of an arrow. And then you will also see the drag brakes. And as you mentioned, Jackie, it cuts the velocity dramatically. There you can see the wedge fins are out.

Here we see the descent. We are going to expect the B.E. 3 engine to relight just at about 3,600 feet or about 1,200 meters above ground level. Let's wait for that now. The drag brakes have deployed. And here we come, New Shepard.

And touchdown, welcome back, New Shepard, the fourth flight back and forth for that vehicle, provided a beautiful flight to space for our second human crew. Wow, that gets me every time. We do this live down here in Texas. The sonic boom is so cool. Drag brakes are folding back in as have the wedge fins. Just looks like you could fuel her up and go again. What do you think, Jackie?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And even when you know to expect the sonic boom, it still catches you off guard every time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Talk about a rumble. A beautiful sight of our New Shepard rocket there in the West Texas desert. But, of course, the show is not over. The capsule is descending. We are waiting for first the drogue shoots to deploy. Those are like the guide parachutes. They will subsequently be followed by the main parachutes that will first wreath and then fully inflate. There go the drogue parachutes.

And here come the mains. What a flight. You can already start to hear the cheers from outside our stage here in West Texas.

And here comes our crew back into the desert, newest astronauts, 596, '97, '98 and '99.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Standby touchdown. Standby touchdown.