For Audrey Powers of Blue Origin, a launch into space this week will fulfill a lifelong dream.
Powers, Blue Origin's vice president of mission and flight operations, will ride a New Shepard spacecraft on a suborbital trip Wednesday (Oct. 13) along with "Star Trek" actor William Shatner, Planet Labs co-founder Chris Boshuizen, and Glen de Vries, co-founder of clinical research software platform Medidata Solutions. The launch is set for 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) from Blue Origin's Launch Site One in West Texas near Van Horn.
The upcoming spaceflyer's official Blue Origin description of her flight says the company seeks to "enable a future where millions of people are living and working in space to benefit Earth", although such a future will likely be pricey given that competitor Virgin Galactic is selling seats for $450,000 apiece. (Blue Origin hasn't released their seat pricing yet, but it's likely pricey; its first auction for a seat on New Shepard was won for $28 million earlier this year.)
Powers will be Blue Origin's first employee to launch on New Shepard, although the company launched its billionaire founder Jeff Bezos on a similar suborbital trip in July. That flight, Blue Origin's first crewed spaceflight, also included Bezos' brother Mark, the 82-year-old female aviation pioneer Wally Funk and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen of the Netherlands, the company's first paying passenger. While Funk set a record for the oldest person in space on that July flight, Shatner (who is 90 years old) will set a new record with Wednesday's launch.
According to Blue Origins, Powers is firmly focused on diversity, both as the executive sponsor of Blue Origin's New Mercury gender diversity business resource group, and as the chair of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.
"I'm so proud and humbled to fly on behalf of Team Blue, and I'm excited to continue writing Blue's human spaceflight history," Powers said in the Blue Origin statement.
She recalled watching shuttle launches in her elementary school classroom, during an era where it took some serious equipment to watch events live.
"They would roll the TV into the classroom on one of those metal carts and we would watch the launches," Powers said. "I wondered what it would be like to try to find where I lived floating up there in a spacesuit."
Powers pursued her interest through childhood visits to the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum (she fortunately lived nearby its location of Washington, D.C.) and then attending Purdue University, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering.
Her space experience includes working as a flight controller at NASA mission control, serving as an engineer for 10 years with United Space Alliance, and working for Blue Origin since 2013. She first joined the company as deputy general counsel, after earning her law degree at Santa Clara University.
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