How it feels to go into space: ‘More beautiful and dazzling and frightening than I ever imagined’

Chris Boshuizen was enjoying a sunny morning in the Texas desert as he climbed into Jeff Bezos Blue Origin rocket vehicle capsule to embark on a journey that few of us will ever experience.
As the capsule door closed, he waved goodbye to Amazon billionaire William Shatner and took his place next to him.

This was Boshuizen's dream for a lifetime. It began when his parents took his family to Parkes in Australia, a small town with long-standing astronomy connections. It was there that a curiosity for the unknown was born, as Boshuizen gazed out from the same telescope which once transmitted images from Apollo 11's Moon landing.

Chris Boshuizen on board Jeff Bezos Blue Origin New Shepard rocket, 13 October, 2021. Blue Origin Photograph

Chris Boshuizen prepares to board Jeff Bezos Blue Origin New Shepard Rocket Photograph: Felix Kunze/Blue Origin

The former Nasa developer was now seated next to Shatner, who has been captivated by the role of Captain James Kirk in Star Treks USS Enterprise 37 years ago. Audrey Powers, an executive at Blue Origin, was also aboard, as well as Glen de Vries (chief executive of Medidata Solutions, a clinical research company).

Boshuizen, a space geek, tells Guardian that he is a space geek days after returning to Earth. I've always wanted to become an astronaut. When I found out I was going to space, I bumbled like a child with a new toy.

After 20 years of hard work and a lifetime of dreams, the engineer and physicist became the third Australian citizen to fly to space.

The road to liftoff

Boshuizen flew 9 October from San Francisco to Van Horn in Texas, a small rural Texas town close to the Mexican border. He would spend the next five nights in Bezos Astronaut Village (a state-of–the-art preflight residence).

Chris Boshuizen (left) with William Shatner, and other astronauts. Blue Origin Photograph

The crew received extensive astronaut training that included flight simulations, zero-gravity workshops and other exercises. This was done to prepare them for space flight, which will take place on the day of launch.

Every aspect of the journey, from meeting engineers and control teams to fitting flight-suits and emergency procedures training, was practiced and perfected from start to finish.

Boshuizen was up before the sun rose on launch day, 13 October. Boshuizen admitted feeling nervous, but he was able to relax due to the excitement shared by all four passengers.

He says that he had some time to think about my mortality and assess the risks. I've done everything I can to do the right thing.

T-45 minutes passed before the crew left the Astronaut Training Centre to travel the 10-minute distance to the launch pad site. Bezos was their chauffeur. The New Shepard, which stood nearly 20 metres tall by four metres wide, was an intimidating sight in the desert valley.

Boshuizen ascensioned the tower and crossed the air bridge to reach the crew capsule. The crew capsule measures 15 meters in length and the astronauts were strapped into their seats.

Boshuizen, the last passenger on board, was the last to board at T-25 minutes. This was after safety checks had been completed and the team was ready for liftoff. Bezos closed the hatch as mission control sounded the "sit back and relax" command.

You can reach space Chris Boshuizen in just four to seven minutes

Boshuizen said it was like a submarine door. You hear the steel bang, and you believe you are stuck.

Finally, the rocket was propelled from the ground after a 10-second countdown.

Boshuizen said it felt like a steep plane takeoff, and dispelled the notion that the sheer force propulsion would shake and rattle the capsule as in the movies.

The capsule was separated from the booster as it approached the Krmn Line at 100km above the mean sea level.

Crew onboard the Shepard capsule. Photograph: Blue Origin/ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock

Boshuizen claims it takes only four to seven minutes for you to reach space.

Boshuizen carried a 1.5kg bag in his cargo bag. Boshuizen also carried a 1.5kg cargo bag with him.

The minifigure, a childhood toy that was also a throwback to his lifelong fascination for space, jiggled around and began to move through the cabin at 100km above the sea level. Boshuizen sat up as he soared through the air.

A stone is thrown into a stream

He says that the three to four minutes without gravity were so natural. It's not unusual.

The crew floated together in order to take a selfie. Soon, their noses were pressing against the windows to see the earth's curve.

Boshuizen said that it really hit me in the chest. It was so powerful that the crew wept.

He adds that it was uncanny to see the edge of the atmosphere as a brilliant sapphire shield around our planet. Now, as I close my eyes, I feel an irresistible pull pulling my heart out of my chest towards the edge.

Astronauts look out of the windows and float inside the capsule Photograph: Blue Origin/ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock

Blue Origin New Shepard Rocket Launches Photograph by Mike Blake/Reuters

I have seen all the movies, I've seen every astronaut speak about space, I've seen photos of the Earth curvature in light of the atmosphere, and the blackness in space. I realized that those words were completely inadequate to describe what I saw.

It was more stunning, dazzling, and frightening than I could have imagined.

As quick as the ascent, the descent back to Earth was also fast. Boshuizen describes feeling like a stone being thrown in a river. He felt like he was floating to the bottom of a river as the capsule touched the atmosphere.

The crew returned to Earth in a dust cloud just over 10 minutes after the launch at 9.59 AM CDT.

Blue Origins New Shepard Rocket Explodes Photograph: Joe Skipper/Reuters

Bezos opened the hatch and was greeted by a roaring applause from waiting friends and family. Boshuizen disembarked third as champagne was popped.

Boshuizen is now the only person to have seen the Earth from orbit.

Boshuizen, who has now achieved his childhood goal, has a new goal: To make it as simple as taking a bus to get to space.

He believes that the dream of working and living in space will soon become a reality. Space exploration was once the exclusive domain of governments. Now, ordinary citizens can explore space.

Humankind has seen a dramatic change in just half a century. You and I can do things that once required an entire nation to accomplish.

The astronaut addresses critics and quickly discredits claims that such trips are just space tourism.

The capsule returns to Earth. Photograph: Blue Origin/ZUMA Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

It's funny to see human spaceflight begin with a joke, and people dismiss it as tourism because they don't understand whats next.

This isn't tourism. It's the beginning of something very powerful. We are close to seeing what human spaceflight could really mean for us.

Space exploration can seem strange and frightening to those who don't understand it.

It's the beginning of something very big. If you fast-forward 50 years, I believe we will look back at 2021 and see that it was the year it all started. This is version 2.0 of the space race.

Blue Origins New Shepard Crew capsule lands in Texas Photograph by Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Venture capitalists are passionate about this topic. We have to go to space to save the Earth. If we have more knowledge about our planet's changing conditions, we can help to steward it. Without knowing the facts, you can't fix it.

Space has always existed, the stars shine as brightly on us as they did our ancestors. It begins 60 miles above us, but it has been elusive for most of human history. Soon, entire generations will be able to look down at the Earth and fall in love with it again.