Update for 12:37 p.m. EST: Blue Origin's New Shepard has successfully launched on the NS-14 mission. Our wrap will be posted shortly.
"Mannequin Skywalker" will fly to space Thursday (Jan. 14) as part of a big test for Blue Origin's budding human spaceflight program — and you can watch the event live.
The company's New Shepard rocket and space capsule are expected to lift off at 10:45 a.m. EST (9:45 a.m. local time or 1545 GMT) from the company's West Texas facility to evaluate upgrades to the crew capsule's performance. You can watch it live here on Space.com, courtesy of Blue Origin, or directly via the company's website here (opens in new tab). Coverage will start 30 minutes before launch, and the company will provide live updates on Twitter.
The name of the mannequin on board name is an apparent play on Anakin Skywalker, the name a young Darth Vader used during the prequel "Star Wars" movies of 1999 to 2005 — the franchise movies that much of the Blue Origin team likely saw when they were growing up.
But the forthcoming mission is anything but science fiction, as the company readies to send paying tourists into space. The company has yet to announce a flight date for sending people aloft, or even to start selling tickets, but Blue Origin is already thinking about the customer experience.
"The [spacecraft] upgrades include improvements to environmental features such as acoustics and temperature regulation inside the capsule, crew display panels, and speakers with a microphone and push-to-talk button at each seat," Blue Origin said in a statement emailed to Space.com. "The mission will also test a number of astronaut communication and safety alert systems. The capsule will be outfitted with six seats, including one occupied by Mannequin Skywalker."
Blue Origin's non-profit Club for the Future also plans to fly 50,000 student postcards to space, with a few of them tucked into Mannequin Skywalker's pockets. This is the third batch of student postcards to take part in a spaceflight, and students can take part in future missions at this link (opens in new tab).
Blue Origin's latest New Shepard test flight (called NS-13) was in October, which also featured a flawless vertical landing for the reusable rocket that sent New Shepard to space.
The company was founded in 2000 by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to send commercial passengers into suborbital space; a successor spacecraft called New Glenn is also under development for orbital flights. In December, NASA added New Glenn to its roster of potential rockets to use on future missions.
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