Despite expecting a fiery explosion, Blue Origin managed to land both its capsule and rocket booster successfully in a test launch conducted Wednesday morning.
The New Shepard rocket, which launched from Texas at 11:37 a.m. to test its escape system, is composed of a booster and a capsule. The capsule will eventually carry astronauts and is designed to separate in case of a booster failure. Blue Origin expected the capsule to detach and land successfully but didn't have high hopes for the booster. But after the capsule separated, the booster righted itself, deployed its parachutes, and headed back to earth. Blue Origin live streamed the launch on its website.
"We'd like to retire (the booster) after this test and put it in a museum," Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos wrote on the company's blog in a September post announcing the test. "Sadly, that's not likely. This test will probably destroy the booster."
After this New Shepard is put to rest, Blue Origin has plans to build six more New Shepard vehicles, according to Reuters. The rocket has flown successfully four times previous times: in October 2012, November 2015, January 2016, and April 2016. Each flight reached a higher altitude, culminating at a peak of 339,178 feet in April.
Blue Origin is a private space company founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The company's motto, "Graditim Ferociter," or "step by step, ferociously" echoes its mission statement to incrementally build upon each previous success to develop groundbreaking spaceflight systems. Bezos' goal is to popularize space travel for the general population and to "seed an enduring human presence in space, to help us move beyond this blue planet that is the origin of all we know."
Bezos and Blue Origin's ascent in private spaceflight is mirrored by the efforts of Elon Musk and SpaceX, whose goal is to enable people to live on other planets. SpaceX has been conducting its own test launches since 2006.