Ad astra per aspera (Latin for "To the stars, with difficulties") may be the Kansas state motto, but it might as well be NASA's for as often, and appropriately, the two are associated. How fitting, then, that a private spacecraft developer has done the phrase a more aggressive turn, choosing the motto gradatim ferociter, which (very roughly) deciphers as "step-by-step, fiercely."
That's the approach of Blue Origin, developer of the New Shepard vertical-takeoff-and-landing spacecraft: step by step, fiercely -- and secretly. The company, established by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, has remained one of the most tight-lipped in the biz, raising the curtain (slightly) only when it was ready to test its nine-engined rocket pod prototype. Inspired by the old DC-X craft developed by McDonnell Douglass for NASA and the Defense Department, the ship is designed to carry a handful of astronauts on a suborbital ride into space.
Quiet as the company might be, its whispers been sufficient to make NASA sit up and take notice. The space agency has ponied up $22 million in second-round Commercial Crew Development funding for the strut-legged craft, on top of the $3.7 million in first-round funding it awarded Blue Origin earlier to support development of a Launch Escape System (LES) and a composite crew module pressure vessel for structural testing.
Now let's see if another group of companies is living up to one their mottos, "Forever New Frontiers."