Blue Origin launch is 'life-changing experience' for former NASA candidate

Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket lifts off from Texas. The company owned by Jeff Bezos on Sunday completed its first successful mission after a failed launch in 2022. On board the flight was former Air Force pilot Ed Dwight, who at age 90 finally flew to space after being turned down by NASA in the 1960s. Photo courtesy of Blue Origin

May 19 (UPI) -- Blue Origin on Sunday completed its first successful crewed flight in nearly two years, marking a fulfilled dream for Ed Dwight, who finally reached space after being turned down by NASA 60 years ago.

The New Shepard rocket and capsule took off at 9:36 a.m. CT from Blue Origin's launch site in West Texas.

NS-25 is Blue Origin's seventh crewed flight to date. The capsul carried six passengers aboard, including Dwight, a 90-year-old retired Air Force Captain who almost became the United State's first Black astronaut.

President John F. Kennedy recommended Dwight for NASA in 1961. Dwight passed the initial round of training at the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base.

NASA, however, did not select Dwight as an astronaut. After retiring from the Air Force in 1966, he went into the private sector, ultimately earning a master of fine arts degree and working as a sculptor out of his own studio in Denver.

"I thought I didn't need it in my life," Dwight said after the capsule landed at 9:46 a.m. CT. "But I lied. I really, really did need it."

"It's a life-changing experience. Everybody needs to do this."

During the 10-minute suborbital trip, passengers reached an altitude of about 65 miles, a few miles above the Kármán line, the internationally recognized boundary where outer space begins.

Passengers got to experience about three minutes of weightlessness and the dramatic view of Earth from outer space before the capsule began its parachute-assisted touchdown a few thousand yards from the launch pad.

At 90-years-old, Dwight is the oldest person ever to fly to outer space, narrowly beating out former "Star Trek" actor William Shatner by a few months.

Shatner at age 90 took to the stars about a new Shepard spacecraft in 2021.

Nonprofit organization Space for Humanity, with support from the Jaison and Jamie Robinson Foundation, sponsored Dwight's $500,000 ticket to space.

Dwights crewmates included venture capitalist Mason Angel, French entrepreneur Sylvain Chiron, software engineer Kenneth Hess, retired accountant Carol Schaller and Indian aviator Gopi Thotakura.

Crewed flights for Blue Origin have been on a nearly two-year hiatus after a failed flight carrying research equipment in September 2022.

Blue Origin said the rocket's engine nozzle failed due to intense atmospheric pressure, and the rocket was destroyed when it crashed to Earth. The capsule and its payload safely ejected from the rocket and were salvaged.

After modifying the rocket to prevent similar malfunctions, Blue Origin successfully launched another uncrewed research flight in December 2023, clearing the way for the company to resume transporting space enthusiasts.

The Jeff Bezos-owned company has previously flown 22 consecutive successful missions, including six crewed flights. Bezos himself flew aboard his own rocket in 2021.