Blue Origin gives ‘SNL’ comedian Pete Davidson’s suborbital seat to the spaceship’s chief architect

Gary Lai is the chief architect of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital launch system. (Blue Origin Photo)

The soon-to-be spaceflier who’ll replace “Saturday Night Live” comedian Pete Davidson on the crew for next week’s launch of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship already knows what it’s like to get ready for liftoff.

That’s because he’s Gary Lai, Blue Origin’s chief architect for the New Shepard launch system. Lai served as an almost-astronaut during last April’s rehearsal for crewed flight at the company’s Launch Site One in West Texas. That was a practice run during which Lai and a crewmate strapped into their seats in the crew capsule, but then climbed out and left the launch pad just before liftoff.

Just three months later, Blue Origin went ahead with its first-ever crewed space mission, with billionaire founder Jeff Bezos and three others on board. Two more trips followed, and now it’s Lai’s turn for real.

“I am deeply humbled, grateful and excited by the invitation to fly on New Shepard on the NS-20 mission,” Lai wrote in a posting on LinkedIn. (NS-20 refers to the fact that this will be the 20th mission for the New Shepard reusable launch system. Sixteen of those missions were uncrewed.)

Lai joined Blue Origin in 2004 and was among the Kent, Wash.-based company’s first 20 employees. He currently serves as senior director and chief architect of the New Shepard program, but he’s played roles in developing all of Blue Origin’s product lines — including its rocket engines, the New Glenn orbital-class rocket and the Blue Moon lunar landing system.

“While New Shepard may be designed for suborbital space tourism and research, at Blue Origin we made it for another purpose — to learn how to make human spaceflight routine, safe and low-cost, so we can use the effectively limitless resources of space for the benefit Earth,” Lai explained on LinkedIn.

See also  NASA puts Blue Origin and Spaceflight on a new list for commercial launch contracts

He said suborbital space vehicles provide a lower-cost route to gain experience with the techniques and technologies required for orbital human spaceflight.

“Because of the experience we are gaining on New Shepard, we are confident the first flight of the New Glenn orbital vehicle will be 100% successful,” Lai said.

Lai is getting his chance because Blue Origin shifted the launch date from March 23 to March 29, and as a result, Davidson was no longer able to join the crew. Although Blue Origin hasn’t provided specifics about the factors behind the cancellation, the 28-year-old actor is in the midst of filming a horror movie in New Jersey called “The Home” — and it’s likely that the film production schedule couldn’t accommodate the revised launch schedule.

Five other crew members will join Lai on the trip, following through on their previously announced reservations:

  • Sharon and Marc Hagle, who are in line to become the first married couple to go into space together since 1992. Marc is the president and CEO of Tricor International, while Sharon is the founder of SpaceKids Global.
  • Marty Allen, an angel investor and the former CEO of Party America and California Closet Company.
  • Jim Kitchen, a teacher, entrepreneur and explorer who has served on the faculty of the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School since 2010.
  • George Nield, a former associate administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation who is now the president of Commercial Space Technologies.

While Lai is flying as a Blue Origin employee, the five others are paying undisclosed fares. Liftoff is currently set for 8:30 a.m. CT (6:30 a.m. PT) March 29, but that schedule can shift depending on weather or technical factors. Blue Origin plans to live-stream coverage of the launch via its website, starting at T-minus-60 minutes in the countdown.

See also  Blue Origin’s suborbital space trip brings the final frontier down to earth: How to watch the launch

Related Posts

Tech founder who took space trip with William Shatner dies in N.J. plane crash

Glen de Vries peers out from Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital space capsule after touchdown in October. (Blue Origin Photo) A month after taking a suborbital space…

BlackSky makes a deal to sell satellite imagery to NASA — and makes its first quarterly report

One of BlackSky’s Earth observation satellites is readied for launch. (Rocket Lab Photo) BlackSky Technology says it has secured a five-year, sole-source blanket purchase agreement with NASA…

Jeff Bezos says he’s spending more on his Earth Fund than on Blue Origin space shots

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, talks about the link between space and Earth’s welfare with moderator Adi Ignatius at a forum at Washington…

Orbite’s plans for space training complex get a boost from famed French designer Philippe Starck

Orbite customers and instructors take a zero-G airplane flight during spaceflight training. (Orbite Photo) The French designer who created the look for Virgin Galactic, Spaceport America and…

Rocket Lab launches two more Earth observation satellites for BlackSky — and tracks a falling rocket

Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle rises from its New Zealand launch pad. (Rocket Lab via YouTube) BlackSky’s Earth-watching constellation has grown by two satellites, thanks to Rocket…

NASA begins DART mission to practice pushing away an asteroid, with an extra push from Aerojet

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launches NASA’s DART asteroid probe from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. (NASA via YouTube) A space probe the size of a school…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *