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Blue Origin launches Michael Strahan and crew of 5 on record-setting suborbital spaceflight

VAN HORN, Texas — Blue Origin successfully launched its first six-person crew into space on Saturday (Dec. 11), and in the process, set six new space records.

From the tallest person to fly into space to the first parent-child pair to lift off together, the six newly-qualified astronauts made history on board Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket. The crew included former football star-turned-TV anchor Michael Strahan and Laura Shepard Churchley, the eldest daughter of Alan Shepard, the first American astronaut to fly into space and the namesake for Blue Origin's suborbital launch vehicle.

Strahan said the experience was amazing. "I want to go back," he told Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos after returning to Earth. "Touchdown has a new meaning now!!!" he wrote on Twitter after the flight.

"It was surreal ... it was unbelievable, it's hard to even describe it," Strahan said in a Twitter video after the flight. "It's going to take a little bit to process it, but it couldn't have gone better."

Lifting off at 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT) from Blue Origin's Launch Site One here in Van Horn, Texas, the single stage New Shepard rocket lofted the crew on a 10-minute flight that soared just above the internationally-recognized boundary between Earth and space. Strahan and Churchley, together with paying passengers Dylan Taylor, Evan Dick and Lane and Cameron Bess, experienced about three minutes of weightlessness while they looked down at our planet from 65 miles high (106 km).

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Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket launches a crew of six, including Good Morning America's Michael Strahan, on a suborbital flight from Launch Site One near Van Horn, Texas on Dec. 11, 2021.

(Image credit: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)
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Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket and crew capsule launch the NS-19 space tourism flight with Good Morning America co-anchor Michael Strahan, Laura Shepard Churchley, Dylan Taylor, Evan Dick and Lane and Cameron Bess on board on Dec. 11, 2021 near Van Horn, Texas.

The New Shepard booster approaches its landing pad after the successful launch. (Image credit: Blue Origin)
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Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket and crew capsule launch the NS-19 space tourism flight with Good Morning America co-anchor Michael Strahan, Laura Shepard Churchley, Dylan Taylor, Evan Dick and Lane and Cameron Bess on board on Dec. 11, 2021 near Van Horn, Texas.

The New Shepard crew capsule is seen under its main parachutes as it returns the NS-19 space tourists to Earth after a successful launch from Blue Origin's Launch Site One near Van Horn, Texas on Dec. 11, 2021. (Image credit: Blue Origin)
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Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket and crew capsule launch the NS-19 space tourism flight with Good Morning America co-anchor Michael Strahan, Laura Shepard Churchley, Dylan Taylor, Evan Dick and Lane and Cameron Bess on board on Dec. 11, 2021 near Van Horn, Texas.

The moment of touchdown for Blue Origin's New Shepard space capsule on the NS-19 space tourism mission. (Image credit: Blue Origin)
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Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket and crew capsule launch the NS-19 space tourism flight with Good Morning America co-anchor Michael Strahan, Laura Shepard Churchley, Dylan Taylor, Evan Dick and Lane and Cameron Bess on board on Dec. 11, 2021 near Van Horn, Texas.

A member of Blue Origin's NS-19 crew gives a thumb's up after landing back on Earth. (Image credit: Blue Origin)

The crew capsule, dubbed "RSS FIrst Step," then descended back to the ground, using three large parachutes and a last second burst of air from downward facing thrusters to slow and cushion the touchdown. Jeff Bezos, the former chief executive of Amazon and founder of Blue Origin, was on hand to welcome the six back to Earth and present each with their Blue Origin astronaut wings.

At 6 feet, 5 inches tall (196 cm), Strahan set a new record as the tallest person to fly into space. The Super Bowl champion who now co-hosts "Good Morning America" on ABC surpassed the previous Guinness World Record height by one inch, which up until now was jointly held by NASA astronauts James "Ox" van Hoften and James Wetherbee. 

Blue Origin's New Shepard 19 (NS-19) crew, from left to right: Dylan Taylor, Lane Bess, Cameron Bess, Laura Shepard Churchley, Michael Strahan and Evan Dick. (Image credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin paid Strahan a stipend to fly as a crew member on the mission, which he in turn donated to The Boys & Girls Club. Strahan is not the first TV news personality to fly into space — that distinction goes to Toyohiro Akiyama, who launched to Russia's space station Mir as a correspondent for the Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) in 1990 — but Strahan is the first journalist to fly on a suborbital spaceflight. 

Strahan is also now the first Black person to fly on a suborbital spaceflight out of the now 38 people who have made the hop into space and back. (Sixteen Black astronauts and cosmonauts have flown higher and faster and Strahan on missions that entered Earth orbit.)

Record-setting NS-19 astronauts Laura Shepard Churchley, the first daughter of a U.S. astronaut to fly into space, and Michael Strahan, the tallest person in space. (Image credit: Blue Origin)

The first person to launch on a suborbital spaceflight was Alan Shepard, Churchley's father, who lifted off 60 years ago on May 5, 1961. (Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle is named after Alan Shepard.) Churchley is now the second, second-generation American astronaut and the first daughter of a space traveler to leave the planet. Churchley flew as a guest of Blue Origin.

"I kind of feel a little bit like I'm following in my father's footsteps," Churchley said in a Blue Origin video

After the launch, Strahan said Churchley exclaimed "Let's light this candle!" in a nod to her father, who said the same words before launching on his Freedom 7 Mercury mission. 

Lane and Cameron Bess are now the first parent-child pair to fly into space together, having launched on Blue Origin's New Shepard 19 (NS-19) suborbital spaceflight. (Image credit: Blue Origin)

Venture capitalist Lane Bess and his offspring Cameron became the first parent and child to fly into space together. A Twitch and YouTube content creator Cameron is also the first out pansexual person to launch off Earth.

"It's certainly an honor to be one of the first LGTBQ+ people in space," Cameron Bess said in the Blue Origin crew video.

Taylor, the chairman and CEO of the space exploration firm Voyager Space and founder of the nonprofit Space for Humanity, and Dick, an engineer and investor who volunteers as a pilot for Starfighters Aerospace, rounded out the New Shepard 19 (NS-19) crew.

Strahan flew in seat no. 1, making him the 604th person to fly above 50 miles (80 km), the U.S. definition of where space begins. Churchley, Taylor, Lane Bess, Cameron Bess and Dick are now the 605th to 609th people to fly, respectively.

The NS-19 mission marked the fifth flights each for the RSS First Step capsule and its reusable booster. It was the 19th successful flight for the New Shepard since 2015, the sixth flight of the year and third launch with humans aboard.

Blue Origin dedicated Saturday's launch to previous passenger Glen DeVries, who died in a plane crash on Nov. 11, less than a month after launching to space on the company's NS-18 passenger flight with actor William Shatner and two others.

"His passion and dedication will not be forgotten," Blue Origin wrote in a statement. "Ad astra Glen."

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Robert Z. Pearlman

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.