Hurd: Van Horn company part of our space future

September 21, 2015
Editorial

Will Hurd, Guest column11:58 a.m. MDT September 21, 2015 - El Paso Times

America’s love affair with traveling into outer space is deeply entrenched. Most of us at least briefly considered answering, “An astronaut,” when asked as children what we wanted to be when we grew up.

Putting a man on the moon united our nation in victory and we’ve collectively mourned through tragedies such as Apollo 1, the Challenger and Columbia.

What many people don’t know is the romance is flourishing in a small town in West Texas.

I represent a vast swath of Texas that takes eight and a one-half hours to cover if you stay on the highways.

But, if you stick to Interstate 10 from San Antonio to El Paso you miss a lot of the wonderful treasures hidden in the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. One of those diamonds is about 24 miles north of Van Horn. It’s called Blue Origin.

Blue Origin is a private company that’s finding innovative ways to engineer space vehicles that are safe and reusable and therefore capable of taking civilian astronauts into space multiple times. This will increase the affordability of spaceflight and research, making it more accessible and beneficial to all.

Blue Origin is an excellent example of American innovation and how the public and private sector can work together to keep our nation on the cutting edge of space travel.

I recently got a peek inside and the mood at Blue Origin is infectious. These folks are inspired, motivated and have fully bought into the vision of their founder, Jeff Bezos. (You may know him as the guy who started Amazon).

He wants to make the ability to travel into space not just something people dream about, but a reality that’s truly accessible. And they’re going about it in a responsible, though fearless manner.

Even their motto describes their commitment – Gradatim Ferociter – “step by step, ferociously.” In their own words, “we don’t just build rockets – we build a culture around methodical innovation and exploration.”

While Blue Origin engineers are constantly looking for better ways to make this happen, the current New Shepard space vehicle consists of two pieces – a pressurized capsule designed for six astronauts and a booster to launch the capsule into sub-orbital space above the Karman Line, 350,000 feet into the air.

The American-made rocket engine contained in the booster has already gone through a couple of iterations, each design getting closer to the goal.

One very cool thing about this BE-3 engine is that it enables a precise vertical landing, within mere feet of its target. No more rockets separating from the space shuttle and falling into the ocean.

Another engine Blue Origin is developing uses liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas to create more than 550,000 pounds of thrust that will allow orbital space flight.

This BE-4 is going through testing now and Blue Origin believes it will be flight-ready by the end of 2017.

Meanwhile, New Shepard’s capsule will vault into outer space at Mach 3 where the souls on board will see first-hand the wonders of the universe.

Weightless, they’ll be able to somersault across the cabin, enjoying a view of our planet that very few have before experienced.

As the capsule begins its descent, they will get to experience forces of over 5 Gs before three independent and redundant parachutes will deploy, ensuring a safe and comfortable landing.

You know, West Texas is already beautiful to view from the ground. I can’t even imagine what it must look like as you’re floating down to Earth in a capsule making its return trip from outer space.

But I confess. I want to find out.

Will Hurd represents Texas’ 23rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.