UNC professor Jim Kitchen successfully flew to space and returned safely to earth in the fourth Blue Origin launch containing humans on board.
The launch was originally scheduled to take place March 23 with comedian Pete Davidson, but it got delayed and Davidson then had a scheduling conflict.
On Thursday, the launch was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. but again got delayed. Still, launch eventually took place around 10 a.m.
All six crew members--Jim Kitchen, Marty Allen, Sharon Hagle, Marc Hagle, George Nield and Blue Origin employee Gary Lai--traveled to space and returned safely all within a span of several minutes.
After landing, Kitchen exited the space capsule holding a flag that read "194," a reference to the fact that space is the 194th place he's visited. He's the only person in human history to visit all 193 United Nations-recognized countries and travel past the Kármán line.
"I brought all of my passports with me, representing all of the countries in the world, and this was pushing that final boundary," Kitchen said. "Going to space, let me tell you, that was an out of body experience. I was thinking on the way up, 'you're going 2,300 mph and you feel every bit of that."
Kitchen's flight was Blue Origin's fourth crewed flight to space and the first of 2022.
"For me for being the first person that's ever visited every country and then to see it from space, that's a that's a deeply personal thing for me," Kitchen said.
The other astronauts on the flight included CEO and investor Marty Allen, Sharon Hagle, Marc Hagle, and former NASA manager George Nield. Marc Hagle is CEO of the commercial and residential property company Tricor International. His wife, Sharon, founded SpaceKids Global, a nonprofit aimed at inspiring children about spaceflight.
Blue Origin employee Gary Lai was also be on the flight, filling the empty seat left by Davidson having to back out.