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Bezos and New Shepard Crew Launch from Texas. Aired 9-9:30a ET.

Aired July 20, 2021 - 09:00   ET



ADAM FRANK, PROFESSOR OF ASTROPHYSICS, UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER: You don't want to drag everything out of the gravity well. It's too expensive. So that is really why -- yes, I don't like to think about privatization, I like to think about commerce. There's got to be jobs for people, good, well-paying jobs that, you know, that people --


FRANK: Give people a reason to go into space. And that infrastructure is what is so essential.

Now, in some sense we have to remember that we paid for, with taxes, you know, the infrastructure that allowed Jeff Bezos to get this far, which is all of the rocket development and the communications development that NASA did in the -- throughout its extraordinary tenure as the U.S. space agency.

So there has been a lot of infrastructure investment that got us here that was paid for by taxes, very important to pay taxes. And so now it's the next step that these private companies can do that I think is just absolutely so essential to be able to give us the capacities to make this next essential step that Michio was talking about.

COOPER: Eleven minutes, 10 seconds away from launch.

Let's just quickly go to Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. What a morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.


One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. Fifty-two years to the day after those words were uttered by Neil Armstrong on the surface of the moon, moments from now we will witness a new leap for mankind.

Poppy, two private launches to space in the span of nine days.


SCIUTTO: I mean a remarkable new normal. I mean, still, a pricey ticket to space, no question, but does this over time become even more normal, more accessible? I mean we're witnessing a moment of history right now.

HARLOW: We certainly are. As one expert put it, the dawning of the public space age.

What you are watching, if you're just joining our coverage live here on CNN, is the final countdown. Literally, we are ten minutes from launch. Jeff Bezos will launch himself and three fellow soon to be astronauts in space. Jeff's brother, Mark Bezos, along with pilot Wally Funk, who will be the oldest person in space at 82 years young, and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen. They will all go to space.

And, Jim, we just heard those words, right? We just heard them say, New Shepherd is ready for launch.

Our Anderson --

SCIUTTO: Yes, reminiscent of those moments we've seen from mission control in previous space launches, right, each mission commander saying, go, go, go.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: And then, finally, the lead commander saying, we are ready, we are ready for launch.


Let's get to our colleague, Anderson Cooper, who is on the ground there from Launch Site 1.

Anderson, take it away.

COOPER: Yes, a lot of people waited a very long time and worked very hard to make this happen. Under ten minutes now.

Good morning. I'm Anderson Cooper, live from Launch Site 1 in -- near Van Horn, Texas. There is a go for launch. We are told some nine minutes to go.

Any moment now, Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin will launch its first crewed mission to the edge of space. The 11-minute ride is going to take him and his crew from here in west Texas to beyond the carmen line, an invisible line that many say is the edge of space, and back again. His ride notably higher in altitude than billionaire rival Richard Branson's mission just nine days ago.

A very different kind of mission today on a rocket, a vertical takeoff and a vertical landing for that booster rocket when it returns to earth. CNN's Rachel Crane and Kristin Fisher are here with me. And we also have other guests as well, Colonel Chris Hadfield, retired Astronaut, and Jonathan McDowell, Harvard astrophysicist, and also Miles O'Brien.

We're going to get to all of them.

Bezos is expected to travel further than Branson did, Rachel. There's, obviously, you know, competition with SpaceX as well. So there's a lot of eyes watching this in the space community.

RACHEL CRANE, CNN BUSINESS INNOVATION AND SPACE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And, you know, Elon Musk tweeting this morning to Blue Origin, wishing them well.

We have not yet heard from Richard Branson wishing the Blue Origin or Jeff Bezos well. I'm sure that, you know, that might be coming in the future. But there certainly is this competitive spirit between the companies.

We saw right before Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic made their historic flight, Blue Origin pointing out that there would be an asterisk by the name of those astronauts because they did not cross that carmen line, which is the international demarcation of space. They were only going 50 miles above earth, which is, you know, what NASA, the military and the FAA designate as space.

But the international line is 62 miles above earth, so that's what Blue Origin will cross today, both the booster and the capsule. So the astronauts, the space participants -- I mean the space -- the people on board will become -- the space participants, rather, will become astronauts all over the globe, not just in the U.S.

So, you know, their -- they -- this is something that they've all been dreaming about their whole lives, this moment here.


You know, Blue Origin was founded 20 years ago, and, Anderson, we are getting, you know, right down to the wire --

COOPER: Seven minutes -- t-minus seven minutes.

CRANE: Yes, and two minutes before liftoff, that's when they will go into autonomous mode.

And I want to point out that when they -- when the countdown gets to zero, that's when the rocket ignites. But it only lifts off about 6 seconds after that. And right before that engine ignites, we're going to see the gimball (ph) checks. You're going to see that engine moving underneath. You're going to see the hydraulic checks. So I just want to, you know, tell our audience what to expect in the coming moments here.

COOPER: And, Kristin, on board, inside that capsule, when we get some glimpses of them with the giant windows, one-third of the capsule is all windows for people to get a good view. Talk about who's on board. KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you've got

the wealthiest man on planet earth, Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, 82- year-old Wally Funk, who trained to be an astronaut way back in the 1960s but back then women were not allowed to fly, so now she, of course, gets her chance, and then 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, who, I mean, talk about a graduation gift. It doesn't get much better than this for an aspiring pilot and astronaut.

And, you know, one thing to notice as, you know, we're just a few minutes away from lift off, this is going to be so different from the shuttle launches that we see at the cape when you're right by the water. We're in the middle of a desert with this backdrop of the mountains. I mean it's just going to look quite different. And, you know, you want this really remote setting for a rocket launch to test rockets because it is so incredibly dangerous, of course.

But this New Shepherd reusable spacecraft, 15 consecutive, successful test flights, which is why Blue Origin feels so confident about sending these four crew members up to space.

COOPER: Fifteen consecutive test flights, all of them unmanned.

FISHER: Correct.

COOPER: So this is the first time they have had humans on board.

FISHER: First human flight. And first paying customer, too.

COOPER: I want to bring in Colonel Chris Hadfield, retired astronaut.

Colonel, for these four in the capsule right now, what do you think they're feeling?

COL. CHRIS HADFIELD (RET.), ASTRONAUT: It's like there are two or three people inside their own head at once. Part of them is just focusing on what's happening and the training that they took and, you know, doing their bit right. Part of it is just like a sur-reality, can this actually be happening to me?

And then I'm sure for Wally, you know, she's been dreaming about this since she was a young girl. For Jeff, for everybody on board, there's like this little kid inside them running around and screaming how excited they are. And all of that is inside their heads.

And they'll -- they don't -- they're not worried about the danger. What they're most worried about now in that somewhere in the next five minutes someone might say stop. They want to go. That's the feeling, a great urge to let's get this thing going today.

COOPER: It's t-minus 4 minutes, 15 seconds.

You -- so, at this point, you -- the danger, you don't think, is something that they -- that's in their mind?

HADFIELD: If you've waited until 4 minutes before launch to start thinking about the danger, you are a very bad astronaut. You know, you need to have dealt with that quite a while in advance. You know, you need to have just accepted, hey, everything worth doing in life has risk. This is worth doing. So now let's get over that part and actually live the experience and do everything I can to do my part right to have success today.

COOPER: And, Colonel, when that -- when that rocket takes off and you go from zero to, you know, mach 3, more than 2,000 miles per hour, what does that -- what's that like?

HADFIELD: It's the ultimate dragster, I mean, going straight up, you know, with this great force squishing you in your chair. And you've got to bully your way up through the atmosphere. I mean it's a pretty blunt object. And so there will be a whole bunch of vibration. You know, there's the jet stream and wind shear and stuff on the way up. They're going to get shaken. Their back teeth are going to rattle.

But all of that will end, you know, in just under three minutes after launch. There will be this instantaneous wham of cutoff. And then, like magic, like some big gorilla's been jumping on you and then just threw you off a cliff and suddenly you're weightless. And they're all just about to experience that.

COOPER: Like a big gorilla has been jumping on you and then throw you off a cliff. I love that. That's pretty -- that's -- I get that.

And the weightlessness, I mean it lasts for some three minutes or so. I mean it's got to go -- feel like just a few seconds. It's got to go by so quick.

HADFIELD: Anderson, I was in space for six months total and it still felt like it went by so quick. It's so magically different than the rest of my life. And so I think the real important thing is to just live it. Don't -- you know, absolutely absorb -- become hyper aware. Focus on what's going on around you. The difference of weightlessness and that amazing, new view of the earth out the window. You've got to be a sponge, a human sponge, absorbing the magic of the experience.


COOPER: Miles O'Brien, we are two minutes from launch.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AEROSPACE ANALYST : It's quite a moment. I'm still -- I love Chris Hadfield and the gorilla analogy. That's good stuff. That's darn near poetry.

You know, this -- this is an important moment. It's a milestone moment. And, you know, Anderson, when you think about the big picture here, we all know that we have a finite time for this solar system. We're talking billions of years, but it is a finite thing.

And going back to what Michio was saying about the dinosaurs, they didn't know they were headed for extinction. We know we're headed for extinction, one way or another. We might do it to ourselves sooner. And the idea of becoming a multi-planet, and ultimately multi-solar system is about keeping humanity alive. And this is -- this is a small step along the way, but an important one. COOPER: Yes. And, of course, it's on the anniversary, this the day

that man first landed on the moon. This last minute -- let's just watch and let's just listen and experience this launch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: T-minus 16. Guidance internal.

T-minus 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, command engine start, 2, 1.

Five thousand feet.

Max Q (ph).

Thirty thousand feet, (INAUDIBLE).


COOPER: The booster is about to separate from the capsule at any moment.

It's supposed to separate at about 228,000 feet.

And then at 3 minutes, 3 minutes from launch, which is very shortly, weightlessness. They'll begin to experience zero gravity and they can float around.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) look out the window.



COOPER: Watching this as well is Colonel Chris Hadfield.

Colonel, as you watch this, what do you think?

HADFIELD: You know, I love flying rockets, but I feel so helpless watching rockets. I can't do anything to help those guys.

But it looks like the rocket has done its job. The hydrogen/oxygen engine, you know, reusable throttle able (ph) and yet it got them to the edge of space. Now they're already up there in space. I just want to make sure all the mechanical things work properly so that the crew on board can truly experience the amazing sequence of events they're going through right now.

So there's still a lot of systems have to work, but so far so good.

COOPER: Hey, Colonel, let's listen in. The astronauts are speaking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just have to wait for it

Who wants (INAUDIBLE)?




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just have to wait for it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One-minute warning. One-minute warning.


COOPER: The one-minute warning is telling them that they have one more minute left of weightlessness, then they have to get back into their seats, buckle in because they're going to start to fall back to earth. And they're going to pick up speed very, very quickly, 5.5 gs on the way down at one point.

There's three parachutes that will be deployed, ultimately slowing down the capsule.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, (INAUDIBLE), look at that. It's dark up here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's dark up here.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First (INAUDIBLE) check. Astronaut Oliver.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oliver, sound check.



Astronaut Wally.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Copy. Astronaut Demo.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Copy. Astronaut Bezos? COOPER: It's their mission control checking in with each of the four

passengers on board. They're now strapped back into their seats and they're now descending back to earth. The booster rocket is also descending to earth. It is going -- it should actually land shortly in a vertical position so that it can be reused, future launches, as well as the capsule will be able to be reused.


COOPER: What was that? Explain that.


COOPER: Explain -- you're on TV (ph).

CRANE: Oh -- oh, so, Anderson, what we just heard was the sonic booms from the booster landing back here on the landing pad just two miles away from where that booster took off. This is all part of that reusability bit of Blue Origin and this new era of space travel, being able to reuse the system that we create. No longer the one and done of the past. And, as you heard, we heard the sonic boom when it was coming back down here on earth. And now we're just waiting for that capsule. That's the next major milestone.

But as you can see, we can see it right there, that pinpoint landing. I mean, Anderson, that's a thing of beauty for Blue Origin.

COOPER: That's incredible.

CRANE: I mean look at that thing. This is now the third time that that booster has flown to space. Nailed that landing.

COOPER: Now, there -- now there's the capsule.

FISHER: And in --


COOPER: Kristin.

FISHER: In just a few minutes we're going to see three -- hopefully three big parachutes come out to allow that capsule to descend gently to the desert floor. But even if three parachutes don't come out, they have contingencies in place for if it's only two parachutes or one parachute, and that's the redundancy that we have been talking about and why Blue Origin believes that this is such a safe capsule and reusable rocket.

And, boy, we don't need the video from inside the capsule to know that those astronauts had a great time.

COOPER: And there you see the parachutes have been deployed. Let's listen.

CRANE: Yes, those are the -- the drove (ph) parachutes. We're going to see the main parachutes in just a moment. COOPER: There are also some thrusters on the capsule itself to help

fall into position.

CRANE: That's right. Well, what you're going to see, right before it lands, is a big kick of dust. That's because there's retro thrusters on the bottom to basically create an air cushion so that it's a very comfortable landing. You know, as we were talking about, they were going 2,300 miles per hour. By the time this thing lands, Anderson, it's going to be going one to two miles per hour. And that air cushion underneath is really going to just make it that much more of a comfortable landing.

But we are about to see this thing land and those astronauts, I mean, I cannot wait to hear about this journey and to hear what their experience was like.

COOPER: Miles O'Brien, as you're watching this, it's extraordinary just how short this entire adventure was.

O'BRIEN: Yes, and it's -- but it's still kind of scary, Anderson. You've got to -- you know, when you're talking about rockets --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Welcome back to earth First Step (ph). Congratulations to all of you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mission control, there is a very happy group of people in this capsule. And we're so grateful to everybody who made this possible. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mission control, Oliver, thank you so much, everyone. It was amazing. It was amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Copy, First Step (ph). You have a very happy (INAUDIBLE) here as well.

Let's do a status check.

Astronaut Oliver.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Copy. Astronaut Demo.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Astronaut Demo, I am unbelievably good.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) control, Bezos, best day ever.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, boy you've got --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Copy, everyone. Go ahead and remain in your seats. Crew member seven is on their way. Shortly you will hear the capsule off-gassing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, wow. Oh, wow. Does anybody (INAUDIBLE).



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My main mission was accomplished. I think (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) point about five minutes.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First up, Blue Control, your apache (ph) was 351,210 feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) control, please say that in meters (ph).

COOPER: Both the booster rocket and the capsule have all returned relatively close to where certainly the capsule, from where they launched. So it won't be long before the crew is actually taken out of that capsule.

As we wait for that, Colonel Chris Hadfield is with us, as well astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell and Miles O'Brien.


Colonel Hadfield, what do you think?

HADFIELD: I wish the entire team at Blue Origin a huge congratulations. This was an extremely hard thing to do. And it looks like, I mean, things are virtually perfect. You know, maybe a couple little things in there. They're going to learn a lot from this. But the main objective, the four crew members are safely back on earth.

And the other thing I think here, Anderson, is now, each of those four, brand-new astronauts needs to decide, what are they going to do with this experience? You know, do they keep it to themselves? How do they share it? How do they affect their own lives? How do they use this experience to try and impact other people's lives? It's kind of an amazing open door for them that they're going to walk through, and then, you know, never look back.

COOPER: Jonathan McDowell, what are your thoughts as you watch this?

JONATHAN MCDOWELL, HARVARD SMITHSONIAN CENTER FOR ASTROPHYSICISTS: Well, you know, it looks absolutely flawless. And it opens up -- I think, you know, we -- they became the about 584th or 5th so on people in space. We're going to see, I think, a huge increase in that total of the number of human beings flying in space in the coming years thanks to these tourist flights. So I think that's the real, real impact here.

COOPER: And it's extraordinary, Jonathan, when you think this capsule can be reused and the booster rocket as well.

MCDOWELL: That's right. So, this was the third flight of this very same stack. And that actually, you know, people, when they started reusing rockets, people were like, oh, you know, I don't want to go on a used rocket. But actually I think it really does give you confidence that you've worked the bugs out of this vehicle and you can use it again and again.

So I think the -- Elon Musk with SpaceX pioneered that with the orbital rockets. They're doing it here at Blue Origin. Virgin Galactic's vehicle is reusable. That aspect of space travel is a huge change compared to the throw away rockets of the '60s and '70s.

COOPER: And for future space travel and exploration, Miles, reusable rockets are essential.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely, Anderson. You know, we tried to do this with the space shuttle, but we came up way short on the idea of reusability. They threw away the external fuel tank. It was very difficult to restack the solid rocket boosters. And the orbiter itself was incredibly fragile, covered with all those tiles which ultimately proved to be kind of an Achilles heel.

When you look at what you just saw there, what it really impresses me is everything that you saw there is scaleable to orbit and beyond.


O'BRIEN: That -- the architecture of their system is kind of over engineered for what you saw today.

COOPER: Hey, Miles, I want to bring in the colonel.

Colonel, what are we looking at here? Why exactly -- why haven't they just brought them out immediately? What are they doing?

HADFIELD: Well, obviously, the capsule is pressurized to some degree inside, and it has, you know, the tanks of pressurized air and other things inside that were keeping the crew cool and comfortable. Those all now have to be safe and equalized otherwise you've got like big, you know, partially expended scuba tanks underneath. So they need to equalize pressure. They just have to work through all of their steps.

But what Miles just said is correct, this isn't just this flight today, but the techniques that they're developing, the procedures, the sequence, that's all sort of, you know, this is a first step. That's building the legacy so that they can do this over and over again with paying passengers, but also scale it up on bigger rockets to be able to get into orbit and beyond. So you want to be procedural. You don't want to just make this a one off. And that's what everybody's being really careful about there right now.

COOPER: Yes. Let's just watch this and listen.

Kristin, it's going to be fascinating to hear from not only Jeff Bezos and his brother, but from Wally Funk, who has been waiting, I mean, all of her life for -- for this experience.

FISHER: It is something she has been wanting to do ever since she started training to become an astronaut back in the 1960s. And back then women were not allowed to fly in space. But Jeff Bezos saying that it would be his honor if she would be his guest for this first human flight of the New Shepherd spacecraft.