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Blue Origin successfully launched (and landed) the 11th uncrewed test of its suborbital New Shepard launch system Thursday in Texas. This was the 5th launch for this particular rocket and capsule.

Why it matters: This most recent launch paves the way for the Jeff Bezos-founded company to launch people to space. According to Blue Origin, those crewed launches could begin as early as the end of the year. Eventually, Blue Origin hopes to fly groups of paying passengers on tourist trips to the edge of space on a regular cadence.

A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.

Bezos has often stated that Blue Origin's goal is to help bring about a future in which millions of people are living and working in space.

  • To that end, the company is also building its orbital New Glenn rocket, designed to bring larger payloads to orbit and perhaps beyond.

Details: This particular New Shepard launch carried 38 payloads to weightlessness during this flight.

  • A new Shepard flight is designed to bring paying customers up to at least 62 miles above Earth — known as the unofficial line where "space" begins — before coming down under parachutes, and landing in Texas.
  • That flight profile will allow passengers to see the Earth against the blackness of space and feel weightlessness.
  • It's not yet clear how much Blue Origin will charge for a seat aboard the capsule, though Virgin Galactic has offered seats aboard its suborbital system for about $250,000.

Background: Blue Origin is part of a broader commercial space landscape that includes SpaceX and other private companies focused on democratizing access to space. Instead of seeing space as just the realm of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced nations, these private companies want to reduce the cost of launching to space, thereby making it more accessible to all.

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Air quality alerts issued as California fires threaten more sequoias

The Windy Fire blazes through the Long Meadow Grove of giant sequoia trees near the Trail of 100 Giants in Sequoia National Forest, near California Hot Springs, on Tuesday. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

Two wildfires were threatening California's sequoia trees over overnight — hours after authorities issued fresh evacuation orders and warnings, along with air quality alerts.

The big picture: Air quality alerts were issued Wednesday for the Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley as smoke from the Windy and KNP Complex fires resulted in hazy, "ash-filled" skies from Fresno to Tulare, the Los Angeles Times notes.

Asymptomatic Florida students exposed to COVID no longer have to quarantine

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during a September news conference in Viera, Fla. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced Wednesday an emergency order allowing parents to decide whether their children should quarantine or stay in school if they're exposed to COVID-19, provided they're asymptomatic.

Why it matters: People infected with COVID-19 can spread the coronavirus starting from two days before they display symptoms, according to the CDC. Quarantine helps prevent the virus' spread.

Federal judge: Florida ban on sanctuary cities racially motivated

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A federal judge on Tuesday struck down parts of a Florida law aimed at banning local governments from establishing sanctuary city policies, arguing in part that the law is racially motivated and that it has the support of hate groups.

Why it matters: In a 110-page ruling issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom said the law — signed and championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) — violates the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause because it was adopted with discriminatory motives.