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Blue Origin delays next space tourist launch from May 20 due to vehicle issue

Blue Origin's suborbital New Shepard vehicle fires up to launch William Shatner, Chris Boshuizen, Glen de Vries and Audrey Powers to the final frontier on Oct. 13, 2021.
Blue Origin's suborbital New Shepard vehicle fires up to launch William Shatner, Chris Boshuizen, Glen de Vries and Audrey Powers to the final frontier on Oct. 13, 2021. (Image credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin's fifth human spaceflight won't take place on Friday (May 20) after all.

Jeff Bezos' company had been targeting Friday for the launch of NS-21, the next mission of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle. But that's no longer the plan.

"During our final vehicle checkouts, we observed one of New Shepard's backup systems was not meeting our expectations for performance. In an abundance of caution, we will be delaying the #NS21 launch originally scheduled for Friday. Stay tuned for further updates," Blue Origin said via Twitter today (opens in new tab) (May 18).

Blue Origin's NS-21 mission: When to watch and what to know

NS-21 will send six people on a brief trip to suborbital space from Blue Origin's West Texas launch site. One of the passengers, Katya Echazarreta, will become the first Mexican-born woman to reach the final frontier. Another, Evan Dick, will become the first-ever repeat New Shepard crewmember. (Dick also flew on the NS-19 mission, which launched on Dec. 11, 2021.)

New Shepard consists of a rocket and a capsule, both of which are reusable. The rocket makes vertical powered landings not long after liftoff, and the capsule comes back to Earth shortly thereafter for soft, parachute-aided touchdowns.

Each New Shepard mission lasts roughly 11 minutes from liftoff to capsule touchdown. Passengers experience a few minutes of weightlessness and get to see Earth against the blackness of space. We don't know how much this experience costs; Blue Origin has not revealed its ticket prices.

As its name suggests, NS-21 will be the 21st flight overall for New Shepard and Blue Origin. The company has conducted four crewed missions to date, which lifted off in July 2021, October 2021, December 2021 and March 31 of this year.

Blue Origin isn't the only company selling seats aboard suborbital flights; Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic does so as well. Virgin Galactic has four crewed spaceflights under its belt, but all of those have been test missions; the company plans to begin commercial crewed flights in early 2023

Editor's note: This story was updated at 11 a.m. EDT on May 20 to state that Katya Echazarreta will become the first Mexican-born woman to reach space. The original version incorrectly said "first Mexican-born person," but that was be Rodolfo Neri Vela, who flew on a space shuttle mission in 1985.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There (opens in new tab)" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).  

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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com (opens in new tab) and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.