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New Shepard Lands, Successfully Completing Near Space Mission. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 20, 2021 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one.

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JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good, high flying Tuesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto, very much enjoying what you and I got to watch this morning, Poppy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, for sure. What a moment for them, obviously.

And for everyone watching, good morning, everyone, it is the top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow. We are so glad you're with us today.

You're watching history unfolding in front of our eyes this is morning on 52nd anniversary of the U.S. moon landing, another milestone. Billionaire Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, the world's richest man, blasting off successfully and safely to the edge of space aboard the aptly named New Shepard, a suborbital capsule and rocket system built by his space company, Blue Origin.

SCIUTTO: The launch and crucially safe return of the New Shepard, there you see it, landing there in the desert in Texas, New Shepard name for Alan Shepard, the first American in space. A pivotal moment for the space industry, potentially, paving the way for commercial space tourism, at least, perhaps exploration beyond that.

Next hour, we do expect to hear from Bezos himself as well as the three astronauts who were on board of the capsule there. You heard their shouts of joy as they experienced weightlessness and, of course, the moment when they landed as well. You see there. That included the astronauts Mark Bezos, Jeff Bezos' brother, 82-year-old Wally Funk, the oldest person to leave Earth, and a lucky 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, the youngest person to be launched to the edge of space, two records broken there.

CNN's Kristin Fisher, she is at launch site one in Van Horn, Texas. And Kristin, we are going to hear from Jeff Bezos and the crew soon, excitement as they landed, excitement as they were experiencing weightlessness. I even think one of them said, I think, if I heard correctly, do you want a Skittle in the midst of that moment, but quite a moment in space.

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there was so much cheering, so I just can't wait to see the video from that. But at least we got to hear the audio because you know that those four crew members were having the time of their life.

But when you think about what this meant for those four now astronauts, I mean, this is a lifelong dream for Jeff Bezos, but also an even longer dream for that 82-year-old Wally Funk. You saw her walk out of that capsule with her arms wide open, big smile on her face and then that 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, who probably just got the best graduation that a dad could ever give his son, and, of course, Jeff Bezos' brother, Mark. So we should be hearing from all of them when this press conference begins.

We don't know exactly when, but I would imagine Blue Origin absolutely thrilled by what just happened. That was a textbook launch and landing of the New Shepard suborbital system, totally autonomous, no pilots on board. Not only does that capsule land, as you saw there, with the assistance of three big parachutes, but, of course, we saw the beautiful booster landing, something which has not been done until just a few years ago, back in 2015, Blue Origin, the first to do it, followed by SpaceX with a suborbital rocket. And there it is right there, landing on that landing pad, just about two miles away from the launch pad.

Poppy and Jim, I have got to say, one of the benefits of a suborbital flight, remember, they weren't actually going all the way up into orbit. This was a suborbital flight but at least they didn't have to eat astronaut food, that freeze, dried food. They could come back down to Earth later and have a champagne celebration on the desert floor.

HARLOW: Right, I think I heard something about popping a champagne bottle when they landed.

Kristin, before you go, first of all, welcome to CNN. First you had Branson and now you have Bezos and you're the daughter of astronauts.

FISHER: What a week.

HARLOW: This must be particularly meaningful for you.

But as the daughter of astronauts, speak to it beyond the sort of awe at this moment and the real responsibility. What does this mean for humanity because most people can't afford it? So where does it go from here?

FISHER: Well, Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin's grand vision is to someday move all of the heavy industry, all of the mining, all of the stuff that hurts Planet Earth, they want to move that into space eventually and kind of key Planet Earth as this pristine national park zone, it is a residential zone, that, of course, many, many years away. But Blue Origin believes that today was a very important first step to achieving some day that vision, because by doing this over and over, they get their reps in, they get more comfortable with human space flight and with launching payloads and research experiments in to space.

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But if you've had any doubt about how Blue Origin is feeling right now, I just walked back to the press tent and they were just playing, We Are The Champions. So I think they're feeling pretty good right about now.

HARLOW: What a day. Kristin, thank you for the great reporting on the ground.

Let's talk a lot more about all of this with former Astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American to fly into space. Your thoughts this morning? You have accomplished so much. You just watched what that team did along with, I should note, 82-year-old Wally Funk.

DR. MAE JEMISON, FORMER ASTRONAUT: First of all, it was very beautiful. It was something that, for me, it's a combination of the engineering as well as the will to do this in a different way. I also have to tell you that it was sort of NASA-esque to me, which means it felt very similar to NASA launches, right? In terms of even the -- even the crew clothing, right? So it was very familiar.

And I think what made this really exciting is that we saw something that felt very familiar around space exploration but it was done by a private company. And it had a lot of sophisticated engineering on top of it.

In terms of Wally Funk, how excited am I for her? Because as part of the Mercury 13, these were women who were pilots, very accomplished pilots in their own right, who did the same tests that all of the guys with the right stuff, the Mercury astronauts did, the women did as well or better than the men on all of the tests and yet the decision was we're not going to fly women. And that is back in the 1960s.

So, for her to still be around and have the opportunity and Bezos to extend that opportunity for her to fly, I believe, is very special and I'm excited for her.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Jemison, you mentioned that difference here, right? You flew to space during a time when it was, at least for Americans, the sole province of NASA, a massive government institution, right, government and, frankly, military institution. So now you have not just one, Bezos' company, but three private companies flying not just tourists to space but in the case of Elon Musk, flying commercial payloads and government payloads to space, including astronauts to the space station.

What difference does it make for this to now be something that business people can get into? Does that, in your view, increase -- grow human beings exploration of space? JEMISON: So, I need to clean up a little bit of the history that goes along. So, NASA is a completely civilian organization. It worked with, and we had military astronauts, I'm a civilian so there is always some confusion. I was a professional astronaut, right? But there is some confusion. NASA is a civilian organization. It is worked with the military. The military has its own space programs even before space war showed up. So that is really important.

Then the other piece of this is we have to remember that NASA has worked with private companies since the beginning to help build the vehicles. NASA has had control over the designs. So what is different now is NASA didn't have control over the design in the same way.

But when we think about SpaceX, and the reason I'm trying to clean this up is because this has always been integrated. When we think about SpaceX and Starliner, which is the Boeing Enterprise, to get astronauts to space station, NASA funded the nidus and siege-funded (ph) nidus of that for commercial space. And SpaceX was funding that way and the Boeing was funding that way, and that is how we got to SpaceX.

But what we did was to take the technology, the knowledge that has been built up over years where we know how to do low Earth orbit, where we know how to the moon, all of these things, and the private industry, as they design their vehicles, they had more latitude as to how to make this happen.

When you get to Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, they did this without government-funding, without specific NASA-funding and designed very different vehicles. So I'm very excited about that. It is really a continuum.

And what we have to understand is there is a role for the government, there is a role for private industry. When you start to think about the things that we can do, how you could get different people going up, right, it is really important. It is really important. Because, really, what we do with space, technology, with capabilities, depends on the people who are involved with it, depends on the people who have the perspective and can apply it to things like agriculture here on Earth, can apply it to helping developing countries, map roads and chart even disease outbreaks.

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So it is a very exciting time.

SCIUTTO: Yes, of course. In this case too, you have got a for-profit and even space tourism, right, Poppy, the opportunity for individuals and private citizens to buy a ticket to space. I mean, I wonder if you could say today, Poppy, we saw the first commercial space liner, right?

HARLOW: Maybe. Maybe. We know you want to go. Jim Sciutto, you're young and, I mean, they think that in the next few decades, maybe it is more affordable. We'll see. Dr. Jemison, stand by, don't go anywhere. Let me also bring in to this conversation, Brad Stone, a Senior Executive Editor at Bloomberg Tech and author of the newest book, Amazon Unbound, Jeff Bezos and the Invention of the Global Empire, also the amazing book, The Everything Store.

And, Brad, I mean, I remember interviewing you a few years ago for the Amazon documentary we did. Do you remember that? And we talked about this and we talked about space. And I asked you what does Bezos want to do? Like what is the goal here? You have interviewed him and know and studied him so closely. What does he want to do from here with this?

BRAD STONE, SENIOR EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLOOMBERG TECH: Right, Poppy. And the vision has been so consistent really since he was a kid. I mean, he actually gave his high school valedictorian speech on his vision for space. And it was not about going to suborbital space on a tourism trip, it was about opening up the space frontier so millions of humans could live and work in space. And this is this very particular vision of orbiting space stations powered by the sun, built with materials from the moon and this is a multigenerational effort.

But today was kind of a starting point and it was a big validation for a company, Blue Origin, that, frankly, had a lot to prove, because it is 20 years old. Bezos has been spending a billion dollars a year in pursuit of this vision. And until today, they didn't have much to show for it.

SCIUTTO: Brad Stone, does he have a plan to make this more affordable over time? Is there a plan, a hard plan? Because, listen, let's be frank, for the vast majority of people watching right now, this is far, far, far out of their reach, the cost of these things, same for branson's Virgin Galactic.

STONE: Right. Well, Jim, this is Jeff Bezos. He always had a plan, right? He had a plan in 1994 for Amazon. And the plan, the idea is to make it more affordable. Now, let's put affordable in quotation marks. We're probably talking about $250,000 or $300,000 per ticket. But I do think there are some obstacles on the way to making this a routine business for paying customers. I mean, there is a lot of risk here, right?

They put fours passengers on today's capsule and there are six seats. And they did it to reduce weight and lower risk. And so I think this is still going to be a multi-year path before they are really selling tickets and not holding auctions and making media spectacles.

HARLOW: Hey, Brad, I thought it was interesting in the interview that our Rachel Crane did with the crew of four now astronauts, including Jeff Bezos yesterday morning. She asked Bezos specifically about the criticism that many have hurled at him and Branson and said this is just a joy ride for the rich, should you be using your resources more for crises on Planet Earth right now. And he said you can do both. But he accepted that criticism. And said that is largely true. I wonder what you make of that. STONE: Right. Well, let's put ourselves in Jeff Bezos' shoes. I mean, he's been criticized for two decades, he's generally been proven right with his business decisions at Amazon. And so he's kind of supremely confident and I don't think he pays much attention to the criticism. I mean, his answer is basically you can do both.

And he's committed $10 billion to fighting climate change and a couple of billion for early childhood education, but this is his dream. And he has a $200 billion fortune and no one is really going to tell him what to do with his money.

SCIUTTO: Brad Stone, author of Amazon Unbound, thanks so much for helping us understand the story behind this. We will have much more on today's launch.

Jeff Bezos set to speak in just a few minutes. We're going to bring that to you. Stay with our live special coverage.

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HARLOW: Welcome back to our special live coverage here this morning on CNN. Jeff Bezos and three other now astronauts just made a remarkable trip to the edges of space, the launch and the safe return of the New Shepard, marking a pivotal moment for the space industry.

Moments ago, Blue Origin tweeted out some stats from the mission. Here are the ones that aren't too walkie (ph) that we can all understand. The mission took a total of ten minutes and ten seconds and they reached a top speed of 2.233 miles an hour.

SCIUTTO: I'm zeroed in on 107 kilometers. That is key because I believe that is just above 62 miles, which is seen as the beginning of space. It is known as the Karman line. Of course, there is arguments about whether suborbital flight, which this was, counts as space travel. But listen, they went into space. They were weightless.

Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to fly into space.

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With us also, former Astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz, he flew seven missions with NASA, founded NASA's advanced propulsion laboratory, also founded the Ad Astra rocket company and the first Hispanic- American astronaut in space, so a lot of firsts here. Great to have two astronauts on.

And perhaps I could begin with you, Franklin. Listen, space is hard under any circumstances for anybody to get. This was an 11-minute flight, it went up just above 62 miles, so above the Karman line known as really the beginning of space, although there is some debate there. Tell us for someone like you who has flown seven missions what an achievement this was. Put it into context for us.

FRANKLIN CHANG-DIAZ, FORMER ASTRONAUT WHO FLEW SEVEN MISSIONS WITH NASA: Yes. Well, it is a great achievement. Space is hard. Everything that is done, it involves a lot of risk and I am very glad that everything went well.

And, you know, we've gone through many gyrations to actually get human into space over more than half a century now. But we're still just scratching the surface. We have got a long ways to go but it is exciting. It is really exciting thing to see how space is being open to the rest of humanity, not just to a selected few.

HARLOW: Dr. Jemison, you have such a unique perspective on this not only because of your six years as an astronaut with NASA and going to space but also because of the work you did prior in the Peace Corps and serving in Africa and dealing with so many real humanitarian crises on Planet Earth.

I wonder, given the duality of your experience in both those respects, how you see the debate now over billionaires spending a lot of their money to go to space.

JEMISON: So, I think that when we look at space exploration, there has always been this tension about does it make any difference here on Earth. And, in fact, the first president of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, used to say, while they were trying to reach the moon, we're trying to reach the village.

But I would argue that by trying something very difficult, like going into space, we're actually able to reach the village now through satellite communications, through remote sensing and things, so it is really about who gets to be involved.

I remember when I was working in West Africa, when I worked in developing countries, I often thought that it was a little bit of a disconnect from my desire to be involved with space exploration and high-tech. But the issue was that you have to know about both of them.

And that is the reason why it is so important that we have different people involved, because as I learned more about space and what I knew about developing countries, I recognized that you could use satellite communications, that you could use remote sensing, all of these things are important. You could use some of the -- what we know about refrigeration techniques. So all of this is important.

I think the issue that we're looking at now, from my perspective, is that we cannot abdicate our responsibility as humans, as a society, as a country, to say that, oh, it is just this private group of people who are going to control the access to space now. We have to maintain the work that we do as a society, the funding that we do.

SCIUTTO: Yes. You know, it brings back Colonel Chris Hadfield's point during the launch, Poppy, which I know you noted, in effect, and I'm paraphrasing, what do these astronauts now do with this, right? They have seen the Earth from this remarkable perspective. Astronauts in the past have noted looking at the Earth from space makes earthy disagreements and divisions disappear, right? You see the great blue marble without borders and far enough away, sadly, to see other bad things happening down on the surface, right? But I wonder, Franklin Chang-Diaz, when you came back and you had the advantage of seven visions of Earth from up there and I imagine multiple orbits, when you came back, did it change your view of things down here? Did it give you hope for ways forward?

CHANG-DIAZ: Yes, it does very much. You are a different person when you come back. And that is that you see the overview effect. Many astronauts talk about the smallness of our planet, the fact that we all occupy the same place.

And in my case, I was fortunate to have flown over 25 years, I was able to actually see with my own eyes the changes on the earth over that span of time. The expansion of the America's -- you know, the population of the United States, growing west, the deforestation of the Amazon Basin, the contamination of the oceans, the pollution in the air, all of those things, I was able to witness.

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And it does change you.

HARLOW: Wow, as you said, the overview effect, it is so great to watch this even over and over again. Thank you so much, Dr. Jemison, to you, and to you, Franklin Chang-Diaz. Your experience and your perspective is invaluable on a day like this.

We will continue to have a lot more coverage of what we just witnessed this morning, but we do have some other news still ahead, and that includes an urgent warning from the CDC director that the COVID delta variant now makes up over 80 percent of COVID cases in the United States, more on that, next.

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