Jeff Bezos will get to put the first Blue Origin New Shepard rocket into a museum display after all. The battered booster landed at his private space company's launch site Wednesday morning just 2 miles from where it had launched less than 15 minutes earlier following a successful in-flight escape test.
The rocket navigated back to the West Texas landing pad shortly after separating from an empty crew capsule, which used a separate escape motor to maneuver itself away before parachutes deployed and it drifted to a safe, dusty landing on the desert floor below. The sequence is all part of an escape procedure that could be used on a real mission in the future if any sort of anomaly is detected during launch to protect passengers and crew from a malfunctioning rocket.
This is the first in-flight escape test of a spacecraft we've seen since the days of the Apollo program.
The launch was originally set for around 8 a.m. PT, but as the countdown reached about two minutes to go, the kickoff went into a series of holds while some of New Shepard's systems were double-checked. Launch finally happened about 30 minutes later.
The New Shepard rocket that carried out the test had flown four successful test missions previously and will now be retired. As with its competitor SpaceX, a central part of the Blue Origin business model is to drive down the cost of accessing space by recovering and reusing rockets.
Although Bezos and Blue Origin were hopeful the booster could be recovered, they had set low expectations for the rocket to survive the test.
"In the more likely event that we end up sacrificing the booster in service of this test," Bezos, who is CEO of Amazon and owns The Washington Post along with Blue Origin, wrote in a September blog post. "Its impact with the desert floor will be most impressive."
That dramatic ending to Wednesday's test did not come to pass. Instead, Bezos adds another historic rocket to posterity's collection, along with the Apollo 11 engine he helped recover from the bottom of the ocean.
You can watch the entire webcast below: