World richest man, Jeff Bezos, the Amazon chief executive and three others landed after Blue Origin’s first flight to space with passengers aboard, a key milestone in the company’s effort to make space tourism viable and returned safely.
Bezos’ launch comes just nine days after another billionaire, British entrepreneur Richard Branson, flew to the edge of space on a rocket-powered vehicle designed by his own space tourism company, Virgin Galactic.
The company’s capsule landed in West Texas at about 8:22 a.m. local time, roughly 10 minutes after it launched on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.
The crew was to experience a few minutes of weightlessness as the ship soared past the Karman line at an altitude of about 62 miles (100 km) above the Earth. The capsule then drifted back to the Earth beneath six parachutes.
The apparently successful mission caps a landmark month for space-tourism ventures, following by nine days a trip to the heavens by U.K. billionaire Richard Branson on a special plane made by Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc., a rival to Blue Origin.
Both companies are set to expand operations with plans to entice super-wealthy customers to pay big money for a unique travel experience.
A 10-foot-tall capsule with large windows and reclining leather seats detached from the booster and ascend beyond the Karman line 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the Earth, where the passengers experience a few minutes of weightlessness and unforgettable views. They then strapped back in and fell toward the desert ground with six parachutes.
Blue Origin built suspense around the flight with a well-publicized auction. An anonymous bidder offered $28 million to fly alongside Bezos, but what Blue Origin described as a timing conflict left an opening for Oliver Daemen, the 18-year-old son of a Dutch financier.
Also on board: Bezos’s brother Mark, 53, and Wally Funk, 82, a former astronaut trainee. Funk was the oldest person to travel to space and Daemen the youngest.
The suborbital journey came nine days after billionaire Richard Branson demonstrated his rival company’s capabilities by boarding a Virgin Galactic vessel and taking a similar flight to a lower altitude of 53.5 miles, where passengers also experienced weightlessness.
Both companies want to sell space joy rides to wealthy tourists. Highly publicized excursions by their billionaire founders serve as a vote of confidence in the safety of such trips.
Bezos, 57, said he’s planned on traveling to space since he was five years old. He started Amazon.com Inc. as an online book business from his Seattle garage in 1994 and turned it into the world’s largest online retailer, making him the wealthiest man on the planet with a net worth exceeding $200 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
He’s been selling Amazon stock to fund Blue Origin, which is based in Kent, Washington, now has 3,500 employees and also builds rocket engines used to launch satellites. Bezos stepped down as Amazon CEO earlier this month to become executive chairman of the e-commerce giant.
Branson’s flight earlier this month stole some thunder from Bezos’ launch and prompted social-media jousting. Blue Origin dissed the Virgin Galactic flight in a July 9 tweet, calling it a “high altitude airplane” with puny windows. Blue Origin says it has the biggest windows in space. On Monday, Virgin Galactic on Twitter wished the Blue Origin team a “successful and safe flight.”
Despite the fight for space tourism buzz, the ultimate goal is to make such trips routine on rockets that are reused like airplanes. The New Shepard booster will return to a landing pad so it can be reused rather than breaking apart in the atmosphere. Reusable rockets are key to lowering the cost of space travel, which could make it more accessible. Blue Origin hasn’t disclosed the expected price of future space trips or the amount paid by the teenager.
Blue Origin’s director of astronaut and orbital sales Ariane Cornell spoke with New Shepard architect Gary Lai after the successful spaceflight.
“When you sat there 17 years ago with the very small team at the time at Blue, is this what you had imagined?” Cornell asked.
“It’s certainly what we hoped for,” Lai said. “When I joined Blue Origin, there were only 20 of us in a warehouse. It would have taken a huge leap of faith to think that we could have gotten to this point, but we have.”
Jeff Bezos: ‘Best day ever’
During a status check after touchdown, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos reflected on realizing his long-awaited dream of flying in space.
“Best day ever,” Bezos said.
— Hannah Miao
Under a set of parachutes, the Blue Origin spacecraft returned to land, firing its thrusters briefly to cushion its touchdown for the four passengers inside. The company’s recovery crew is headed out to the landing site in the Texas desert, where they will open the capsule’s hatch from the outside.
The rocket’s booster lands
The New Shepard rocket booster returned to Earth, firing its engine to slow down its descent and then slowly landing on four legs. Blue Origin will reuse the booster on future launches.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket booster fires its engine, accelerating away from the launchpad and into the Texas sky. If all goes according to plan, the crew should be in space within a few minutes.
Bezos: ‘To a soft landing’
With less than 30 minutes to launch, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos posted a video to his Instagram in tribute to his brother, Mark, who is one of two other passengers joining Bezos on the company’s first passenger spaceflight.
In the video, Bezos shares some words of encouragement as the brothers clink their glasses of frozen Tang together in a toast.
“The Russian cosmonauts have a special toast for occasions like this before a flight,” Bezos says. “To a soft landing.”
Spaceflight is inherently risky given the explosive nature of the rocket’s fuel, the high speed needed to reach space, the hostile environment of space itself, and the force with which gravity returns the capsule to Earth.
The New Shepard capsule’s seats have a single-release five-point harness. For additional safety in the event of an emergency, it also has escape motor that can fire at any point just before or during the launch, to quickly jettison the crew away from the rocket.
Blue Origin has launched and landed New Shepard safely on 15 prior test flights before putting people on board.
— Michael Sheetz
The Blue Origin crew arrived at the launch facility and climbed the launch tower, nearing the moment when they’ll enter the New Shepard capsule.
— Michael Sheetz
The four members for Tuesday’s inaugural Blue Origin crew have left the company’s training and pre-launch preparation facility, suited up in their flight suits and now headed to the launch pad. The group boarded a Rivian electric truck and began the drive out to the rocket.
— Michael Sheetz
Wally Funk is a female aviation pioneer, and at 82, will become the oldest person to fly in space. She has dreamed about flying to space longer than any of the other passengers have been alive — having been one of the so-called Mercury 13, a group of women who passed the same tests as NASA’s Mercury astronauts, but never got a chance to fly to space.
Her aviation career is legendary — the first female civilian flight instructor at the Army’s Fort Sill, first female Federal Aviation Administration flight inspector, first female National Transportation Safety Board air safety investigator — and has logged more than 19,000 flight hours along the way.
In 1998, 77-year-old Sen. John Glenn became the oldest person to fly in space. Thirty-six years before his flight on the space shuttle Discovery, the Mercury astronaut became the first American to orbit Earth.
— Michael Sheetz
Source: Bloomerg and Twitter