Husband and wife score a first for commercial spaceflight during suborbital Blue Origin trip

Blue Origin’s New Shepard spaceship blasts off from its West Texas launch pad. (Blue Origin via YouTube)

Say hello to the final frontier’s latest power couple: Marc and Sharon Hagle, who became the first husband-and-wife team to fly on a commercial spaceship today during a suborbital trip provided by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture.

The Hagles and four other spacefliers blasted off from Launch Site One in Texas aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ship at 8:57 a.m. CT (6:57 a.m. PT) after a series of holds. There was no immediate word about the reason for the holds.

The flight profile for today’s mission — known as NS-20 because it was the 20th flight for the company’s reusable New Shepard launch system — followed the precedent set by three previous crewed flights: The booster lofted the crew capsule to an unofficial altitude of 66 miles (106 kilometers) above ground level, giving the sextet a few minutes of weightlessness and a view of the curving Earth beneath the black sky of space. Maximum ascent velocity was 2,236 mph, Blue Origin said.

After stage separation, the autonomously controlled booster touched down on a landing pad, not far from the launch pad, while the crew capsule floated down to make a parachute-aided landing amid the West Texas rangeland. The flight took a little more than 10 minutes from the booster’s launch to the capsule’s landing.

Cries of “Woo-Hoo” could be heard from the crew over the capsule’s communication channel just after touchdown. Sharon Hagle gave a fist pump — and gave a hug and a kiss to her husband — as the couple emerged from the capsule.

The New Shepard booster touches down on its landing pad. (Blue Origin via YouTube)
The New Shepard crew capsule floats down on the end of its parachutes. (Blue Origin via YouTube)

In addition to the Hagles, today’s crew included the system’s chief architect, Gary Lai. He was added to the mission when “Saturday Night Live” comedian Pete Davidson had to bow out due to a scheduling conflict.

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“The entire time I was in zero-G, I felt like I was falling toward the ceiling,” Lai said after landing. “It was intense, and I did get a little bit of a feeling of vertigo.”

Other spacefliers included George Nield, a former Federal Aviation Administration official who was involved in regulating commercial spaceflight; Marty Allen, an angel investor and former CEO of Party America; and Jim Kitchen, a widely traveled teacher and entrepreneur from North Carolina.

“That was an out-of-body experience,” said Kitchen, whose bring-aboard items included U.S. and Ukrainian flags as well as a “194” banner celebrating all the countries he’s visited.

Nield said “the pictures don’t do it justice.”

Allen also found it hard to describe the experience. “All of America’s got to get caught up in this,” he said. “And we need a lot of people up here.”

During a post-landing ceremony, each spaceflier received a custom-designed pin from Blue Origin’s vice president for New Shepard mission and flight operations, Audrey Powers, who took a suborbital ride last October.

A crew member waves out the window after landing. (Blue Origin via YouTube)
New Shepard crew members line up for pictures after the landing. From left: George Nield, Jim Kitchen, Marty Allen, Sharon Hagle, Marc Hagle and Gary Lai. (Blue Origin via YouTube)

Like Powers, Lai flew for free as an insider. The other five paid undisclosed fares. Blue Origin didn’t say whether the Hagles got a couples discount.

Sharon Hagle has a close connection to the space community, by virtue of her status as the founder of SpaceKids Global, a nonprofit organization focusing on STEAM+ education (the acronym stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math, plus allied fields).

“This was awesome,” Sharon Hagle said during a post-landing news briefing. “This is the best anniversary present I’ve ever had.”

Marc Hagle is the CEO of Tricor International, a Florida-based residential and commercial property development corporation.

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“Our family has always thought we’ve been crazy, because we do some high-experience things,” Marc Hagle said in a pre-launch video. “And I think by the time we got to this one there was a little bit of acceptance that ‘that’s who they are, and there’s not a whole lot we can say about it.’”

Although today’s flight gave the Hagles an entry in the space history books as the first married couple to go into space together on a commercial spacecraft, they can’t claim the title of first husband and wife to fly in space simultaneously. That distinction goes to Mark Lee and Jan Davis, two NASA astronauts who were secretly married shortly before liftoff on the space shuttle Endeavour in 1992.

In the wake of that flight, NASA changed its policies to forbid married couples from flying together. But plenty of astronaut couples have flown on different missions. One of NASA’s husband-and-wife teams, Bob Behnken and Megan McArthur, took turns traveling to the International Space Station aboard the same SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule in 2020 and 2021.

Update for 12:10 p.m. PT March 31: Blue Origin released a video captured from within the capsule, showing the spacefliers floating in zero-G. At one point, Marc and Sharon Hagle exchange a kiss. Was that the first in-space smooch? We’ll leave that for space historians to figure out…

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