Science and Nature

Alan Shepard: Bezos company sends first US astronaut’s daughter to edge of space

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Laura Shepard Churchley’s (left) father became the first US astronaut in space in 1961

The daughter of the first US astronaut, Alan Shepard, has blasted into space – 60 years after her father’s flight.

Laura Shepard Churchley, 74, was one of six people to make the trip onboard a commercial spacecraft launched by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space company.

The passengers were briefly able to experience zero gravity on the sub-orbital flight.

The flight was the third launched by Blue Origin in 2021 as it seeks to capture the space tourism market.

Ms Shepard Churchley’s father, who died in 1998, became the first American in space after his Mercury flight took off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral on 5 May 1961.

Former NFL star and Good Morning America anchor Michael Strahan was also on Saturday’s flight as well as four other paying customers.

It marked the first time that Blue Origin had filled all six seats on its New Shepard rocket, which is named after the astronaut.

Having been delayed for two days by fierce winds, the flight finally blasted off from the company’s launch facility near the rural town of Van Horn, Texas.

The flight followed a similar path to previous rockets launched by the company, before landing in the Texas desert where the tourists were greeted by Mr Bezos.

Lasting for just over 10 minutes and reaching an altitude of around 62 miles (100km), it was five minutes and 116 miles shorter than Alan Shepard’s inaugural flight.

His daughter brought along a small piece of his capsule, as well as some mementos from his later trip to the lunar surface aboard Apollo 14 in 1971.

“I thought about Daddy coming down and thought, gosh he didn’t even get to enjoy any of what I’m getting to enjoy,” Ms Shepard Churchley said. “He was working. He had to do it himself. I went up for the ride!”.

Last month, Prince William criticised the activities of space tourism companies like Blue Origin, warning that their activities were giving rise to increased “climate anxiety” among younger generations.

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Watch: Prince William says the world’s greatest minds are needed to “repair this planet, not find the next”

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