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Jeff Bezos' private space company Blue Origin launched and landed the fourteenth test flight of its New Shepard rocket booster and capsule, a system designed to carry people on short trips to the edge of space.
The mission did not have passengers on board, although the capsule on top of the rocket is designed to carry as many as six people for future flights. Known as NS-14, this mission also marked the first flight of a new rocket booster and an upgraded crew capsule. The rocket booster and capsule that flew Blue Origin's NS-13 mission in October remains operational, with the company saying it is now dedicated to flying microgravity research payloads.
NS-14's new capsule features multiple upgrades to Blue Origin's astronaut experience.
"The upgrades include improvements to environmental features such as acoustics and temperature regulation inside the capsule, crew display panels, and speakers with a microphone and push-to-talk button at each seat. The mission will also test a number of astronaut communication and safety alert systems," the company said in a blog post.
New Shepard is designed to carrying people on a ride past the edge of space, with the capsules on previous test flights reaching an altitude of more than 340,000 feet (or more than 100 kilometers). The capsule spends as much as 10 minutes in zero gravity before returning to Earth, with massive windows to give passengers a view.
Blue Origin noted that "all mission crew supporting this launch are exercising strict social distancing and safety measures to mitigate COVID-19 risks to personnel, customers, and surrounding communities."
Bezos personally funds Blue Origin's development by selling part of his stock in Amazon. While he has previously said that he sells about $1 billion of Amazon shares annually to fund the space company, Bezos has recently increased his sales of Amazon stock, cashing out more than $10 billion worth in 2020.