The company announced Monday it will replace Davidson with its chief architect of its suborbital rocket, Gary Lei.
Davidson, who has become a pillar of entertainment intrigue amid his relationship with Kim Kardashian and feud with Kanye West, had been slated to fly as an invited guest alongside five paying customers aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket. But when Blue Origin announced last week that it had to delay that flight — from March 23 to March 29 — for additional ground tests on the rocket, the company also announced Davidson could no longer join the mission.
Lei, who has been with Blue origin for 18 years and holds several patents related to the New Shepard rocket’s design, will fly alongside five previously announced paying customers. They include Marty Allen, an investor and the former CEO of a party supply store; Jim Kitchen, an entrepreneur and business professor; George Nield, a former associate administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation; Marc Hagle, an Orlando real estate developer and his wife, Sharon Hagle, who founded a space-focused nonprofit.
After years of quiet development, Blue Origin’s space tourism rocket made its crewed launch debut last year with Bezos, flying alongside a heroine of the space community, Wally Funk, as well as his brother Mark Bezos and a paying customer.
Since then, Blue Origin has been making headlines for flying other well-known names on two subsequent flights, including Star Trek star William Shatner and Good Morning America host Michael Strahan.
Blue Origin’s goal is to make these suborbital spaceflights a mainstay of pop culture, giving a 10-minute supersonic joyride to invited guests — which thus far have mostly been celebrities — and anyone else who can afford it.
The crew change-up with Lei and Davidson isn’t the first. Last year, the company held an auction for one ticket to fly alongside Bezos, and the as-yet-unnamed winner of that auction agreed to shell out a staggering $28 million for the seat. But then the winner opted out, choosing to fly on a later mission, and a runner-up in the auction, a Dutch investor, passed the ticket on to his 18-year-old son, Oliver Daemen.
Before this month’s flight, the Blue Origin passengers will spend a few days training at Blue Origin’s facilities in West Texas before the flight day, when they’ll climb into the New Shepard crew capsule that sits atop the rocket. After liftoff, the rocket will tear past the speed of sound, and near the top of its flight path, will detach from the capsule. As the rocket booster heads back toward the Earth for an upright landing, the crewed capsule will continue soaring higher into the atmosphere to more than 60 miles above the surface where the blackness of space is visible and the capsule’s windows will offer sweeping views of the Earth.
As the flight reaches its apex, the passengers will experience a few minutes of weightlessness. Bezos notably spent his time in weightlessness throwing Skittles and flipping around in the cabin. Others have been glued to the window.
As gravity begins to pull the capsule back toward the ground, the passengers will again experience intense g-forces before sets of parachutes are deployed to slow the vehicle down. It will then touch down at less than 20 miles per hour in the Texas desert.
Because the flights are suborbital — meaning the don’t generate enough speed or take the right trajectory to avoid being immediately dragged back down by Earth’s gravity — the whole trip will last only about 10 minutes.