11:30 AM

First, make it fly.

We all know the age of space tourism is coming, but beyond that, what do we really know?

Well, we know there are the recognizable names like Sir Richard Branson, Burt Rutan and Jeff Bezos in the game, throwing major money at designing the first generation of commercial space ships. We know that in theory the Virgin Galactic entry will look like SpaceShipOne on steroids. What we didn't know until today is what Bezo's creation will look like. His company – Blue Origin – has been very secretive, choosing to work in obscurity at their 165,000-acre West Texas spaceplex.

That has now all changed.

As the New York Times is reporting, Blue Origin performed a November 13th test launch of Goddard, their first ship in the New Shepard family, and today on Blue origin's web site, we finally get the story and video:

The gumdrop-shaped test craft, dubbed Goddard, is seen rising from the West Texas launch site to 285 feet and then, eerily, returning gently to the pad. Videos show the craft taking off and landing again with a loud whooshing sound. In one view, one of the nine rocket nozzles jitters as it maintains the ship’s attitude. Goddard resembles the DC-X, another vertical-takeoff-and-landing craft under development in the 1990s by McDonnell Douglas for the Defense Department and NASA until the government pulled the plug.
When you view the videos of the test launch, one thing is perfectly clear: Bezos' engineers have not spent a great deal of time making this a sleek, futuristic ship that will blow away the Art Director over at Popular Mechanics. The design is functional simplicity, a no-frills, static capsule that will not win style points with anyone.

But at this point in the New Shepard/Goddard project, looks mean nothing. What matters is that the thing flies, period. Because if it does not fly, why bother trimming the interior in BMW leather and gold cup holders? Later on, after Blue Origin is sure Goddard or its successors can blast into space and come back again with the monkeys inside still smiling, they can then work on a marketable appearance that will rock everyone's world.

I am warming up fast to commercial space travel. While I may never be able to afford a ride up, it is just so very cool that people like Branson and Bezos are dropping big league money to bring this next phase of aviation into reality.

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