Winter Park’s Hagles are headed back to space, this time inviting kids to watch – Orlando Sentinel


One taste of space was not enough for Winter Park couple Sharon and Marc Hagle, so they are headed back on a future launch of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket. This time, though, they’re handing out tickets to come see the spectacle.

“It’s a great opportunity to have a second chance, a second peek at space,” Sharon Hagel said.

But, she added, she is just as enthusiastic to work with the local nonprofit she founded in 2015 — SpaceKids Global — to arrange for eight children to come out to “watch the launch up close and personal.”

Because Blue Origin allows each space traveler to bring along eight guests to watch their tourist rocket launches from its West Texas launch complex, and both Sharon and Marc are flying, that means eight kids and eight adults can come out to what’s called Astronaut Village for the event.

The Hagles and guests will stay at the 155-acre site in Airstream trailers for what she likened to a space-age ranch.

“It’s Texas, so you wear your cowboy boots,” she said, but also highlighted things like the flight simulator on site that could show those not flying what the roughly 11-minute rides to space are like.

When that ride will happen, though, is up in the air.

New Shepard is currently grounded while the Federal Aviation Administration completes an investigation after the last launch of the rocket on Sept. 12 ended up triggering the capsule’s emergency abort sequence that ended up destroying the booster. The capsule, which didn’t have people in it, landed safely in the desert near the launch site.

That booster and capsule, though, are not the one Blue Origin has used for any of its six human flights, the first of which took place in summer 2021 taking Bezos up to about 62 miles high. That is past the Karman line, the internationally recognized altitude for someone having gone into space. Passengers get to see the curvature of the Earth and the blackness of space while also experiencing a few minutes of weightlessness.

“It changes you,” Sharon said. “You’ve got me tearing up again just thinking about it.”

It’s unclear when the FAA will complete its investigation paving the way for Blue Origin to restart its tourist flights. It previously grounded competitor Virgin Galactic for about a month during an investigation into its last flight with human passengers.

The Winter Park couple became the first married couple on a commercial space flight and even shared a kiss in space during what was Blue Origin’s fourth crewed flight on March 31. Marc is president and CEO of Maitland-based commercial property company Tricor International Corp.

To date, the capsule has taken up 29 people, including one repeat customer already, and before the recent grounding had plans to get up to six tourism launches a year. Prices for a ride on the New Shepard flights have not been revealed by the company.

Sharon said she is excited to get back up into space, and this time she’ll be more prepared to take in what she called a hectic, albeit life-changing, experience.

“I hope to get more perspective,” she said, but really wants to share the excitement with the younger generation, the driving purpose behind SpaceKids Global.

She spent time with a group of younger potential future space travelers at an event Wednesday at the Winter Park Library.

The nonprofit has already run an essay contest with winners getting to fly on the Zero-G airplane flights that allow passengers to experience weightlessness during extreme parabolic maneuvers, something Sharon and Marc have done several times to prepare for their space travels.

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The new contest is geared toward children in elementary and middle school, the target of SpaceKids Global to get young people excited about what’s know as STEAM+ careers, as in science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics and environment.

Sharon said that among the astronauts she’s talked to, many have said they got their first interest in space from their first-grade teacher.

“It’s important to get kids excited especially about space exploration and technology because they’re the next generation of space travelers and more than likely they will be living on the moon and Mars,” she said.

Sharon Hagle, Blue Origin astronaut, speaks to children at the Winter Park Library on Wednesday, October 5, 2022. She is holding her

While SpaceKids Global is based in Florida, the eight winners will pull from across North America including one position going to someone from a military or first-responders family. A link at the website www.spacekids.global prompts those interested to email the nonprofit for more information.

While she and her husband have the wherewithal to afford to among the first space travelers amid the likes of Blue Origin, she hopes that more people will get a chance to experience what she’s seen.

“It’s a first step,” she said, noting the Blue Origin’s capsule she rode it is also named the RSS First Step. “It’ll be interesting to see what the future brings.”

Follow Orlando Sentinel space coverage at Facebook.com/goforlaunchsentinel.

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