In a first, the secretive Blue Origin rocket company invited the world to watch its Sunday launch, live. Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle accelerated to 2,142mph, ascended into space, and returned to Earth 10 minutes later. Not that all that much of the world watched. It was Father’s Day, after all, and Blue Origin doesn’t have quite the cachet of SpaceX to draw in the masses. Moreover it’s easy enough to dismiss the achievements of Blue Origin—it’s just a small rocket, after all, and this only an unmanned suborbital flight.
Nevertheless, Sunday’s launch affirmed a singular, increasingly inescapable fact about the future of spaceflight: reusable rockets represent the future of the aerospace industry. SpaceX has proven that it can safely return large orbital rockets to Earth, both on land and at sea. With Sunday’s flight, Blue Origin has now definitively taken the next step, turning a rocket around and flying it again. Four times.
This fact won’t be easy to accept for Big Aerospace, which has built its business model around expendable launch vehicles and large government contracts. Moreover, this article is not intended to denigrate NASA, which continues to do some amazing, absolutely groundbreaking things. But our space agency does not appear to be the outfit that is going to radically rewrite the rules of launch, colonize space, and spread human settlements onto the Moon, perhaps asteroids, and eventually Mars.