Blue Origin astronaut shares out-of-world experience, Turners Falls roots

  • New Shepard launched from Texas at 10:49 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on Oct. 13. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/BLUE ORIGIN

  • Audrey Powers looks down on the Earth from the New Shepherd rocket ship on Oct. 13. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/BLUE ORIGIN

  • Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s vice president of mission and flight operations, has roots in Turners Falls. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/BLUE ORIGIN

  • Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s vice president of mission and flight operations, has roots in Turners Falls. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/BLUE ORIGIN

  • Audrey Powers, left, and her crew outside New Shepard’s capsule. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/BLUE ORIGIN

Staff Writer
Published: 10/18/2021 5:04:25 PM

TURNERS FALLS — As the terrain disappeared beneath her and the atmosphere’s blues and whites faded to black, Blue Origin astronaut Audrey Powers kept her grandfather’s dog tags, a Turners Falls heirloom, close to her heart.

Powers was one of four astronauts to enter space during Blue Origin’s second-ever human space launch last week. The Blue Origin vice president of mission and flight operations was invited on board following eight years with the company. Accompanied by Dr. Chris Boshuizen, Glen de Vries and William Shatner, Powers became Blue Origin’s first employee to launch on the New Shepard, not counting the company’s founder Jeff Bezos.

Back on Earth, however, the astronaut’s roots rest deep in Turners Falls.

“Turners Falls and that area of Massachusetts played a really big part in my childhood,” said Powers, who traveled from Maryland “every summer” to visit.

She reminisced about learning to putt a golf ball at Turners Falls’ Thomas Memorial Golf & Country Club, and going to Boston to catch Red Sox games as a child. Powers also recalled fondly the time she would spend with her grandfather, William Powers, a World War II veteran and Turners Falls resident who was county treasurer and on the Montague Selectboard, among other responsibilities.

Powers’ father, Kevin Powers, who grew up in Turners Falls and graduated with Turners Falls High School Class of 1964 before leaving for Georgetown University, got emotional when thinking back on Audrey’s upbringing. He described his daughter as someone who has always had a relentless hunger to learn.

“She was always an ‘A’ student,” Kevin recalled. “She was the valedictorian of her class. She was never the kind who bragged.”

This interest transcended classroom walls. Kevin said he and Audrey used to frequent a local bookstore on weekends, a necessary excursion due to how quickly she’d read.

“She was an avid reader. She loved books,” he said. “I swear to God, she would get a new book every week. We nearly went bankrupt.”

Kevin observed that his daughter took interest in seemingly everything from reading, to sports, to the sciences. Outer space, though, topped Audrey’s list.

“I recall being very interested in flying and in space from being very young,” she said.

Audrey credited her parents for not only being well-rounded and instilling in her diverse interests, but supporting her interests the best they could. She recalls her fascination with space travel being encouraged by her parents’ investment in a telescope, among other things.

“You can tell she was serious about it,” Kevin said. “When she made up her mind to do something, she’d do it.”

When she reached young adulthood, Audrey Powers committed to Purdue University for its aeronautical and astronautical engineering program. After graduating, she traveled to NASA’s Johnson Space Center to work within the International Space Station Program before eventually completing law school at Santa Clara University. After five years of legal work, Powers was hired by Blue Origin as a lawyer.

At the time, Powers wasn’t directly involved with the operational side of Blue Origin, much less the exclusive crew of astronauts.

“Blue Origin employees have no expectation to fly on New Shepard,” she said.

Working her way up to vice president of mission and flight operations, Powers’ invitation to suit up and climb aboard the rocket ship stunned her.

“I was absolutely astounded,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Powers described the time leading up to launch day as bearing the bulk of her nerves.

“In the week leading up to it, I was emotional and excited,” she said.

Come time to ascend, though, she was ready for liftoff.

“That day, I was the calmest I’d ever been that week,” Powers said, adding that she felt “no nervousness at all.”

For her father, who traveled to Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in Texas to see Audrey off, the inverse was true.

“I really wasn’t that nervous until the two-minute mark … and I was like, ‘Oh my God, my daughter’s sitting on top of that thing,’” Kevin said. “In the 10 seconds I was looking at the tower, every bad thing goes through my mind.”

At 10:49 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST), New Shepard launched.

“All of a sudden, the rumble of the engine goes over the desert and hits you in the chest,” Kevin said. “The whole experience, especially the ascent, is very dynamic.”

Audrey described the flight’s duration as a “very visual experience,” trading sight of Earth’s terrestrial details with the blackness of outer space. She said her time outside of the atmosphere lasted three to four minutes before returning to the planet. Before her feet could touch soil again, her father buzzed with anxiety. Then, he heard a voice in his ear.

“Somebody from Blue Origin came from behind and whispered in my ear, ‘The crew is OK,’” Kevin said, breaking into tears before apologizing over the phone.

“After we landed, some of my fellow astronauts were very emotional,” Audrey said before recounting her own experience. “I caught a video of myself crying.”

When reflecting on the significance of her space flight, Powers prided herself in her role representing Blue Origin’s mission of making space travel accessible to the common person.

“When I was young, it was really, really difficult to become an astronaut,” she said. “Blue Origin is trying to open up space access to people who are just like you and me.”

Powers drew on her family’s small-town roots to reinforce the validity of this goal. She credited her parents for equipping her with the “work ethic,” “determination” and “intelligence” needed to achieve what she has. Kevin Powers emphasized that raising his daughter with “small-town values” was a matter of knowing she’d one day set an example for others.

“You can be anything you want, but recognize that you might be somebody’s hero,” he said.

For Audrey, this message rings loud and clear.

“When I look at folks who are like me and folks who are different from me,” she said, “anyone is capable of doing these things. … Life is what we make of it.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.




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