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Blue Origin launches Michael Strahan, Laura Shepard Churchley and others to space and back

This morning, space tourism venture Blue Shepard successfully launched its third crew of passengers to space and back on the company’s New Shepard rocket, the first time a group of six people has flown together on the vehicle. The crew included GMA host Michael Strahan and Laura Shepard Churchley, the eldest daughter of Alan Shepard — the first American in space and the namesake for the New Shepard rocket.

New Shepard lifted off just after 10AM ET on Saturday morning from Blue Origin’s launch facility in Van Horn, Texas. The entire flight lasted just over 10 minutes from liftoff to touch down. Riding inside a crew capsule on top of the New Shepard rocket, the six-person crew climbed to an altitude of 351,225 feet, or more than 66 miles above the Earth, what is considered to be above the boundary to space. After experiencing a few minutes of weightlessness, the capsule carrying the crew touched down on the Texas desert floor, while the New Shepard booster successfully landed upright on a landing pad.

Also included in today’s crew were Evan Dick, an engineer and investor, as well as Lane Bess, the founder of Bess Ventures and Advisory. Bess brought along his son, Cameron Bess, making them the first father and child duo to ride to space together. The final crew member was Dylan Taylor, the CEO of Voyager space and active investor in the space industry. These four were all paying customers for this flight, while Strahan and Churchley were “honored guests.” Blue Origin did not disclose how much each person paid for their seat.

Photo by Blue Origin

Once back on the ground, Strahan described the sight of the Earth from the capsule to a group of people that included Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos. Then someone asked him if the planet was around.

“Okay, Kyrie Irving,” Strahan replied. Irving, a professional basketball player, once proclaimed he believed the Earth was flat, though he has since said he was “sorry” about saying that publicly. In response to Strahan’s joke, Bezos shouted out, “Flat Earther!” Strahan also said he wanted to do the flight again, but Bezos joked he’d have to pay for the next one.

Churchley talked to Bezos about her experience compared to the one her father had back in 1961, when he flew to suborbital space on a Mercury-Redstone rocket. “Gosh he didn’t even get to enjoy what I’m going to get enjoy,” Churchley said about her thoughts ahead of the flight. “He was working!”

Before today’s launch, Blue Origin had only flown crews of four to space on New Shepard. The company’s first crewed launch in July famously launched Bezos, as well as legendary female aviator Wally Funk. The second flight in October included actor William Shatner, best known for playing Captain James Kirk on the TV show Star Trek.

All six of the passengers on today’s flight should receive their commercial astronaut wings from the Federal Aviation Administration, which has historically given the small pins to people who fly above 50 miles. However, this week the FAA announced it would be ending this practice by the end of the year, citing the advent of the commercial space tourism era. Moving forward, it will now list all future spacefarers who fly above 50 miles on the agency’s website instead. That means the six people on today’s flight may be the last fliers to receive the FAA’s wings.

Today’s flight comes after the FAA says it closed an investigation into Blue Origin’s safety culture. The FAA initially opened an investigation in October, after 21 former and current employees at the company penned an essay, accusing Blue Origin of culture rife with sexual harassment and safety concerns. However, the FAA tells The Verge that it found “no specific safety issues” after looking into the claims.

Correction December 11th, 6:30PM ET: An earlier version of the article stated that Kyrie Irving is a basketball player for the Boston Celtics when he no longer plays for that team. We regret the error.