By Zoe Hobbs
Blue Origin continued its streak of successful New Shepard landings as the NS-18 crew capsule safely touched down at 14:59 UTC on Oct. 12, 2021. The mission lasted 10 minutes and 17 seconds, reaching an apogee of 347,539 feet (nearly 66 miles) above ground level, which crossed the Kármán line, considered the boundary of space. Although this was only the second crewed New Shepard flight, all 19 crew capsules in the program have landed successfully. The crew of NS-18 was comprised of four civilians: ‘Star Trek’ actor William Shatner, Blue Origin executive Audrey Powers, and two other paying customers, Chris Boshuizen and Glen de Vries.
The four crew members were a part of Blue Origin’s second human flight after Jeff Bezos rode the inaugural flight, NS-16, on July 20, 2021. The inaugural flight achieved four Guinness World Records, but Shatner broke another one: At 90, he becomes the oldest person to complete a spaceflight less than three months after Wally Funk, 82, flew alongside Bezos. After landing, Shatner thanked Bezos for what he called “the most profound experience I can imagine”. This flight highlights the long way that space exploration has come since Shatner began playing Capt. Kirk in the 1960s.
The NS-18 mission also calls attention to the continuing trend toward commercial, private spaceflight. Although this was only Blue Origin’s second human spaceflight, other companies have also focused on sending civilians to space in 2021. Virgin Galactic’s first full crew flew on VSS Unity on July 11, 2021. SpaceX claimed the first all-civilian orbital spaceflight with the Inspiration4 mission, which returned to Earth safely on Sept. 18, 2021. Blue Origin is planning one more New Shepard launch before the end of 2021.
Civilian interest in spaceflight does not appear to be waning, either. There are about 600 people who have purchased tickets for a Virgin Galactic flight, as well as thousands more who have placed a refundable deposit. SpaceX is also working to develop Starship, which would be capable of carrying 100 people to space at a time. These human spaceflights are allowing civilians to live out their dreams as well as providing opportunities for new technology to be developed and tested in space. Blue Origin and other companies are also working hard to inspire the next generation of STEM and space explorers. Alongside the crew on the NS-18 mission were numerous Postcards to Space, which will be stamped and returned to children around the world.
 Blue Origin. Twitter post. Oct. 13, 2021, 9:43 a.m. https://twitter.com/blueorigin/status/1448313542348791815.
 Blue Origin. Twitter post. Oct. 13, 2021, 9:43 a.m. https://twitter.com/blueorigin/status/1448313545968570370.
 “Replay: New Shepard Mission NS-18 Webcast.” YouTube video, 3:02:20. Posted by Blue Origin. Oct. 13, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEhdlIor-do.
 Steere, Tania. “Virgin Galactic successfully completes first fully crewed spaceflight.” Virgin Galactic. July 11, 2021. https://www.virgin.com/about-virgin/latest/virgin-galactic-successfully-completes-first-fully-crewed-spaceflight. Accessed Oct. 13, 2021.
 SpaceX. Twitter post. Sept. 18, 2021, 5.08 p.m. https://twitter.com/SpaceX/status/1439365668952940545.
 Reuter, Dominick. “600 people have reserved $250,000 tickets to fly to space with Virgin Galactic, including celebrities like Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Bieber, and Lady Gaga.” Business Insider. July 9, 2021. https://www.businessinsider.com/celebrities-reserve-tickets-to-fly-space-richard-branson-virgin-galactic-2021-7. Accessed Oct. 13, 2021.
 “Starship SN15.” SpaceX. https://www.spacex.com/vehicles/starship/. Accessed Oct. 13, 2021.
 “Send a postcard to space.” Club for Future. https://www.clubforfuture.org/missions/. Accessed Oct. 13, 2021.