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A Blue Origin New Shepard rocket ascends in the skies above West Texas. Image: Blue Origin

Blue Origin, the space company founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, conducted a successful launch and landing of its New Shepard rocket and crew capsule on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The launch and landing bring the company closer to flying humans to suborbital space, which it hopes to begin by the end of 2019. In addition to space tourism, the company is also vying with Elon Musk's SpaceX — as well as a host of other private sector firms — to win contracts to carry cargo payloads to space.

Details: The New Shepard rocket carried a crew capsule with 8 NASA science experiments to a maximum height of 350,775 feet over Blue Origin's West Texas launch site. This is just past the typically recognized boundary between where the Earth's atmosphere ends and space begins.

  • At this altitude, the crew capsule experienced a microgravity environment — useful to some of the scientific payloads aboard, including one to measure the cooling of closely packed electronics during spaceflight.
  • Both the rocket and the capsule successfully returned to Earth for landings. The recovery of the rocket and the capsule is significant, since reusing rockets is a major way for companies like Blue Origin to lower the cost of access to space.
  • This was the 4th time this particular New Shepard rocket has been to space and back.

Between the lines: Notably, the test flight was broadcast live online. Historically, the company has been known for its secrecy — and, for a time, it did not announce test flights in advance. The livestream put it in line with its rivals, chiefly SpaceX.

Go deeper: The new global race to space

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

The bomb cyclone and atmospheric river seen via satellite on Sunday. The center of the storm is at the middle of the comma shape, due west of Washington State. (CIRA/RAMMB)

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

Mike Allen, author of AM
5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Fauci fires back at Rand Paul for slam on tonight's "Axios on HBO"

Responding to charges by Sen. Rand Paul on Sunday's "Axios on HBO," NIAID director Anthony Fauci told "ABC This Week" that it's "molecularly impossible" for U.S.-funded bat virus research in China to have produced COVID-19.

Why it matters: The issue 0f Wuhan research was reignited on the right last week with a National Institutes of Health letter to Congress disclosing more about the research.

Manchin, Schumer huddle with Biden in Delaware to discuss spending bill

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (left) and Sen. Joe Manchin at the U.S. Capitol in 2014. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) will meet with President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday morning in Delaware as Democrats look to reach an agreement on the massive spending measure.

Driving the news: Democrats are still negotiating what to keep in the bill and how to pay for it, with Biden saying on Thursday that the party does not have the votes to raise the corporate tax rate.