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Shepard vs New Shepard: How astronaut daughter's Blue Origin launch stacks up

Laura Shepard Churchley's New Shepard 19 launch on Dec. 11, 2021 (at right) and Mercury-Redstone 3 lifting off with her father, Alan Shepard, on May 5, 1961, 60 years ago.
Laura Shepard Churchley's New Shepard 19 launch on Dec. 11, 2021 (at right) and Mercury-Redstone 3 lifting off with her father, Alan Shepard, on May 5, 1961, 60 years ago. (Image credit: NASA/Blue Origin)

Laura Shepard Churchley is now the 372nd American to fly into space. Her dad was the first.

Separated by 60 years, 7 months and 6 days, Churchley followed in her father's footsteps — and suborbital flight trajectory — by launching on board Blue Origin's New Shepard on Saturday (Dec. 11). 

The rocket, named after Alan Shepard, the United States' first astronaut to fly into space (and Churchley's dad), completed its 19th successful spaceflight and its first to carry a full crew of six people.

Video recap: Watch Blue Origin launch Michael Strahan to space

The two Shepards' history-making missions were similar in many ways and yet, the fact that Churchley was able to repeat her father's feat with only a few days of training speaks to how far human spaceflight has come in the past six decades. Churchley flew as a guest of Blue Origin, which was founded by Jeff Bezos, the former CEO of Amazon.

Laura Shepard Churchley wore a Blue Origin flight suit on her New Shepard flight. Her father, NASA astronaut Alan Shepard, donned a BF Goodrich pressure suit. (Image credit: Blue Origin/NASA)

"This was just wonderful. I was trained too well, I knew exactly what was coming," Churchley told Bezos after landing and exiting the capsule. "I thought about Daddy on coming down and I thought, 'Gosh, he didn't get to enjoy any of what I am getting to enjoy.' He was working, he had to do it himself. I went on for the ride!"

Here is a look at how Shepard's Mercury-Redstone 3 (MR-3) and Churchley's New Shepard-19 (NS-19) flights compared.

Launch comparison
Mercury-Redstone 3New Shepard 19
Vehicle operatorNASABlue Origin
Capsule nameFreedom 7RSS First Step
Launch siteLaunch Complex-5 (LC-5) Cape Canaveral, FloridaBlue Origin Launch Site One Van Horn, Texas
Shepard on crewAlan B. Shepard, Jr.Laura Shepard Churchley
Age3774
No. in space (worldwide)2605
Crewmates06 ("The Original Six"): Michael Strahan ("Good Morning America" anchor, at 6',4" now the tallest person in space); Dylan Taylor; Evan Dick; Lane Bess, Cameron Bess (first parent-child pair to launch into space together)
Launch scrubs2 (weather, 3 days)1 (weather, 2 days)
Launch dateMay 5, 1961Dec. 11, 2021
Unplanned holds (on launch day)2 hours, 14 minutes16 minutes
Launch time9:34:13 a.m. EST (1434 GMT)9:00:42 a.m. CST (1500 GMT)
Capsule landing9:49:35 a.m. EST (1449 GMT)9:10:55 a.m. CST (1510 GMT)
No. of parachutes1 drogue, 1 main3 drogue, 3 main
Type of landingwater (splashdown)land (touchdown)
Capsule flight duration15 minutes, 28 seconds10 minutes, 13 seconds
Capsule apogee (max altitude)101.2 nautical miles (116.5 statute miles or 187.5 km)57.2 nautical miles (66.8 statute miles or 105.9 km)
Capsule range263.1 nautical miles (302.8 statute miles or 487.3 km)[not immediately reported]
Vehicle height (capsule/booster)83 feet (25 meters)49 feet (15 meters)
Vehicle diameter5.8 feet (1.8 meters)12.1 feet (3.7 meters)
Capsule volume (habitable)100 cubic feet (2.8 cubic meters)530 cubic feet (15 cubic meters)
Capsule windows (no. and size)0 (two 6-inch [15 cm] circular portholes)6 (each 42.7 inches in height and 28.6 inches across at the bottom [108.5 by 72.6 centimeters])
Total flights (capsule/booster)1 / 15 / 5

collectSPACE is thankful to RR Auction (opens in new tab) for sponsoring coverage of Blue Origin's New Shepard-19 (NS-19) mission. The auction house is based in New Hampshire, Alan Shepard's home state, and was behind the $28 million sale of the first seat on Blue Origin's New Shepard launch vehicle.

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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.