Jeff Bezos on Tuesday blasted into space on his rocket company’s first flight with people on board, becoming the second billionaire in just over a week to ride his own spacecraft.
The Amazon founder was accompanied by a hand-picked group: his brother, Mark, and the youngest and oldest people to ever fly in space, an 18-year-old from the Netherlands and an 82-year-old aviation pioneer from Texas.
“Best day ever!” Jeff Bezos said when the capsule touched down on the desert floor in remote west Texas after the 10-minute flight.
Named after the US’ first astronaut, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket soared on the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, a date chosen by Jeff Bezos for its historical significance.
He held fast to it, even as Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson pushed up his own flight from New Mexico and beat him to space by nine days.
During Tuesday’s flight, Blue Origin’s capsule reached an altitude of about 106km, more than 16km higher than Branson’s July 11 ride.
The 18m booster accelerated to Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound, to get the capsule high enough, before separating and landing upright.
Unlike Branson’s piloted rocket plane, Jeff Bezos’ capsule was completely automated and required no official staff on board for the up-and-down flight.
During their several minutes of weightlessness, video from inside the capsule showed the four floating, doing somersaults, tossing Skittles candies and throwing balls, with lots of cheering, whooping and exclamations of “wow.”
The Bezos brothers also joined their palms to display a “Hi Mom” greeting written on their hands.
The capsule landed under parachutes, with Jeff Bezos and his guests briefly experiencing nearly six times the force of gravity on the way back.
Led by Jeff Bezos, they climbed out of the capsule after touchdown with wide grins, embracing parents, partners and children, then popped open bottles of sparkling wine, spraying one another.
“My expectations were high and they were dramatically exceeded,” Jeff Bezos said later.
Sharing Bezos’ dream-come-true adventure was Wally Funk, from the Dallas area, one of 13 female pilots who went through the same tests as NASA’s all-male astronaut corps in the early 1960s, but never made it into space.
“I’ve been waiting a long time to finally get it up there,” Funk said. “I want to go again — fast.”
Joining them on the ultimate joyride was the company’s first paying customer, Oliver Daemen, a last-minute fill-in for the mystery winner of a US$28 million charity auction who opted for a later flight.
The Dutch teen’s father took part in the auction and agreed on a lower undisclosed price last week when Blue Origin offered his son the vacated seat.
“It was so amazing,” Daemen said. “Let’s hope that many, many more people can do this.”
Four hours after their flight, Jeff Bezos drove his crew over to see the rocket that carried them safely to space.
Among the items brought on the flight: A pair of aviator Amelia Earhart’s goggles and a piece of fabric from the original Wright Flyer.
“I got goosebumps,” said Angel Herrera of El Paso, who watched the launch from inside Van Horn High School, about 40km away. “The hair on the back of my neck stood up, just witnessing history.”
“This ride is only for the wealthy,” pizza shop owner Jesus Ramirez said after watching the launch, adding that he hoped the venture would attract businesses to the town and provide opportunities for local companies.
Blue Origin — founded by Jeff Bezos in 2000 in Kent, Washington, near Amazon’s Seattle headquarters — has not revealed its price for a ride to space, but has lined up spots for other auction bidders.
Ticket sales, including the auction, are approaching US$100 million, Jeff Bezos said.
Two more flights are planned by year’s end.
Included in the many people who Jeff Bezos thanked after the flight was “every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer. Because you guys paid for all this.”
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