On Tuesday morning, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos sent himself into the lower reaches of space in a rocket that resembles male genitalia. It is not the first time the union-busting, urine-bottling billionaire has been compared to Dr. Evil, but there is visual proof this time.
The likeness between Jeff Bezos' rocket and male genitalia was so strong that Jon Stewart used it to promote his new Apple TV+ show, The Problem With Jon Stewart:
That is all right. While most rockets have a similar form, New Shepard has a particularly spherical shape.
But why is the entire realm of rocketry a cone-waving competition? Is a rocket's shape more for business or pleasure?
Bezos Trying to Accommodate Everyone While Maintaining the Stability of the Rocket?
Experts suggest, however, that this suborbital sausage fest was far from accidental. Pedro Llanos, an engineer and professor of spaceflight operations at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University said New Shepard's distinctive shape was created to maximize cabin room for up to six people while also maximizing the rocket's stability upon returning to Earth.
"The main reason the design looks like this is because Jeff's first goal is to send people to space, so everything revolves around having four to six people in the cabin and so maximizing cabin volume," Llanos told Business Insider. His group at Embry-Riddle has sent cargo up on previous New Shepard launches in 2017 and 2019.
"Jeff also wanted to have the biggest windows in space so people could have an awesome experience," Llanos said, which further added the size of the capsule.
While most spacecraft are designed to mimic male genitalia in some way, New Shepard's large mushroom-like capsule — and the slim width of the launcher beneath it — has been the focus of recent speculation.
New Shepard's Capsule
Lucy Rogers, author of "It's ONLY Rocket Science: An Introduction in Plain English" and an inventor with a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, the form of a rocket must be aerodynamic to reduce drag.
This means that the nose cone, for example, must be built to reduce drag: a spherical crew capsule that air can roll right off in the New Shepard case.
A space artifact photographer, Paul Freeman, said on Twitter that the cone design aids efficiency.
Scott Manley, a popular YouTuber, said in a statement obtained by The Irish Times that the company went through several revisions before settling on this shape, which provides them the most volume, the nicest windows, and won't kill everyone on board.
Manley also highlighted some of the shape configurations that were previously considered in a short Twitter discussion.
New Shepard's Rocket
There is also the problem of the rocket body, which is the component that generates thrust. It has very particular proportions. A squat rocket might have trouble taking off.
Slenderness refers to the height-to-width ratio, Rogers explained. The expert added you could only cut it so much before structural strength and efficiency are compromised.
Because rockets must be slender but not too skinny, she said, the rockets end up looking like they are in the same range of aspect ratios as the male anatomy.
Meanwhile, aerospace analyst Stephen McParlin said slenderness prevents the rocket from being crushed in flight because the rockets must travel at various speeds.
"[T]he basics are about getting the volume into the minimum cross-sectional area, then ensuring that the shock waves at each end don't cause structural/heating damage," McParlin said on Twitter.
A rocket would not have to be a cylindrical column and the source of such jokes in a world without an atmosphere.
New Shepard's Flared Base
The cone and body of a rocket are only part of the story.
Each rocket's base is additionally equipped with fins that aid in-flight stability. There are two sets of fins on the New Shepard:
- On the way back, one was placed slightly beneath the capsule to "stabilize the booster and reduce fuel consumption."
- As the ship reaches Mach4, another set is installed at the base for liftoff and stability.
While fins are not seen on all rockets, they are popular on suborbital rockets, creating less thrust due to their smaller size. They frequently move up and down rather than up and around the Earth in orbit.
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