Blue Origin is going with one of its own employees as Pete Davidson’s spaceflight replacement.
Jeff Bezos’ spaceflight company has tapped Gary Lai as the sixth crewmember on its upcoming NS-20 suborbital mission, which is scheduled to lift off from West Texas on March 29. That slot had been reserved for Davidson, but the “Saturday Night Live” star backed out after the mission was delayed from its original target date of March 23.
NS-20 will be the 20th suborbital spaceflight of Blue Origin’s autonomous New Shepard vehicle, a reusable rocket-capsule combo, and its fourth to carry people to the final frontier. The mission will doubtless be extraordinarily meaningful for Lai, for he’ll be riding in a spacecraft that he designed.
In photos: Blue Origin’s 1st New Shepard passenger launch with Jeff Bezos
“Gary is best known as the architect of the New Shepard system, including leading the team responsible for the design and development of many of the key safety systems on the crew capsule,” Blue Origin representatives said in a statement today (March 21). “He joined Blue Origin in 2004 and was among the first 20 employees.”
Lai is currently the senior director and chief architect of New Shepard, “responsible for all next-generation designs, upgrades and new product development for the New Shepard business,” according to the statement.
The other five crewmembers on NS-20 are businessman and angel investor Marty Allen; philanthropic couple Sharon Hagle and Marc Hagle; entrepreneur and teacher Jim Kitchen; and George Nield, the president of Commercial Space Technologies, LLC, who formerly served as associate administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation.
Allen, the Hagles, Kitchen and Nield are paying customers. Lai likely doesn’t have to pay, since he’s a company employee and he’s inheriting Davidson’s seat, which was apparently given away for free.
The gift to Davidson continued a trend. Blue Origin launched at least one celebrity gratis on each of its first three flights, likely to help generate interest and media coverage. Bezos and aviation pioneer Wally Funk flew in July 2021, “Star Trek” star William Shatner launched in October and NFL hall of famer and “Good Morning America” host Michael Strahan lifted off in December.
Blue Origin has not disclosed how much it costs to ride New Shepard, which offers a few minutes of weightlessness and a view of Earth against the blackness of space during each roughly 11-minute flight. The company’s chief competitor in the suborbital space tourism industry, Virgin Galactic, is currently charging $450,000 for a seat on its VSS Unity space plane, which is expected to begin flying customers later this year.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.