Ed Dwight, a former U.S. Air Force captain, is one of six crew members announced for Kent-based Blue Origin’s next flight to space. COURTESY PHOTO, Blue Origin

Ed Dwight, a former U.S. Air Force captain, is one of six crew members announced for Kent-based Blue Origin’s next flight to space. COURTESY PHOTO, Blue Origin

Kent-based Blue Origin announces crew for next space flight

6 members to include former Air Force captain selected in 1961 as first Black astronaut candidate

Kent-based Blue Origin revealed its six-member crew flying on its New Shepard-25 mission, with a flight date to be determined.

This mission will be the seventh human flight for the New Shepard program and the 25th in its history, according to an April 4 Blue Origin media release. To date, the program has flown 31 humans above the Kármán line, which is about 62 miles above mean sea level that borders Earth’s atmosphere and considered by many the beginning of space. The flight, which launches from Texas, takes about 10 minutes.

The crew includes former U.S. Air Force Capt. Ed Dwight, who was selected by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 as the nation’s first Black astronaut candidate but was never granted the opportunity to fly to space, according to Blue Origin.

Each crew member will carry a postcard to space on behalf of Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future. This program gives students access to space on Blue Origin’s rockets, including an all-digital method to create and send postcard. The club’s mission is to inspire and mobilize future generations to pursue careers in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) for the benefit of Earth.

From an environmental standpoint, nearly 99% of New Shepard’s dry mass is reused, including the booster, capsule, engine, landing gear, and parachutes. New Shepard’s engine is fueled by highly efficient liquid oxygen and hydrogen. During flight, the only byproduct is water vapor with no carbon emissions.

While Dwight’s flight is sponsored, the others paid a fee after filling out an application. Blue Origin does not release the price paid by crew members.

Blue Origin completed its 24th flight in December 2023. That flight had no crew members.

Blue Origin opened in 2000 in Kent. The company is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Crew bios

Ed Dwight:

In 1961, Dwight was chosen by President John F. Kennedy to enter training at the Aerospace Research Pilot School, an elite U.S. Air Force flight training program known as a pathway for entering the NASA Astronaut Corps. He was recommended by the U.S. Air Force for the NASA Astronaut Corps but ultimately was not among those selected.

He entered private life in 1966 and spent a decade as an entrepreneur before dedicating his life’s work to using sculpture as a medium to tell the story of Black history. He’s spent the last five decades creating large-scale monuments of iconic Black figures, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, among many others. His more than 130 public works are installed in museums and public spaces across the U.S. and Canada. He was born in 1933 and raised in Kansas City, Kansas.

Ed’s seat is sponsored by Space for Humanity, a nonprofit changing global perspectives by democratizing access to space for all of humanity, with additional support from the Jaison and Jamie Robinson Foundation.

Mason Angel

Angel is the founder of Industrious Ventures, a venture capital fund supporting early-stage companies that enable or progress new industrial revolutions. He is an active member in his family’s foundation and will use this mission to inspire children and advance partnerships with nonprofits focused on STEM in early education. He spends his free time skiing or hiking in the Rocky Mountains and can often be found with his dog Leo, named for low Earth orbit.

Sylvain Chiron

Chiron is the founder of the Brasserie Mont Blanc, one of the largest craft breweries in France. He was born in the French Alps and is a lifelong aviator and skier. He earned his pilot’s license at age 16. After spending several summers in Florida taking additional flying lessons and watching Space Shuttle launches, Chiron entered mandatory service in the French military, where he served as a ski instructor for the French Air Force and NATO pilots. Following the military, he pursued an international master’s in business administration at Temple University and moved to Tokyo to study business in Japan. Sylvain and his family are based in Savoy, France, where he’s also involved in philanthropy focused on children’s education and nature preservation.

Kenneth L. Hess

Hess is a software engineer and entrepreneur who shaped today’s technology-based family history industry when he developed the Family Tree Maker product line in the 1990s. The company was acquired by Ancestry.com in 2003. In 2001, he gave back by founding Science Buddies, a K-12 nonprofit created to level the playing field and improve STEM literacy by inspiring students through free, personalized, hands-on projects in all areas of science, including space exploration. Science Buddies has reached one-quarter billion users.

Carol Schaller

Schaller is a retired CPA. In 2017, her doctor told her she would likely go blind. She has since traveled to 25 countries around the world, visited Mount Everest Base Camp, trekked to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest of Uganda to see mountain gorillas, visited the South Pole, and camped in a tent in the desolate Antarctic plain at minus 20 degrees. Seeing Earth’s thin layer of atmosphere in the blackness of space will fulfill a lifelong dream.

Gopi Thotakura

Thotakura is a pilot and aviator who learned how to fly before he could drive. He’s co-founder of Preserve Life Corp, a global center for holistic wellness and applied health located near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. In addition to flying jets commercially, he pilots bush, aerobatic, and seaplanes, as well as gliders and hot air balloons, and has served as an international medical jet pilot. A lifelong traveler, his most recent adventure took him to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Gopi is a graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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