On Tuesday, Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, flew 66.5 miles (107 kilometers) over the Texas desert on his firm Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle before safely returning to Earth, marking the start of a new age of space tourism. After his capsule descended with three enormous parachutes and touched down, throwing up a cloud of dust, Bezos, accompanied by three crewmates, including the world’s oldest and youngest space travelers, remarked, “Best day ever.”
Blue Origin’s Launch Site One site, roughly 20 miles (32 kilometers) outside the rural hamlet of Van Horn, fired up the spacecraft’s BE-3 engines for liftoff.
On a chilly morning for the launch, the sky was mostly clear with a few scattered clouds.
The 57-year-old American billionaire traveled to the edge of space for roughly 10 minutes and 20 seconds, nine days after Virgin Galactic’s successful maiden suborbital trip from New Mexico.
The flight was part of a fiercely competitive struggle between Bezos’ Blue Origin and fellow billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic to harness a potentially lucrative space tourism industry that Swiss bank UBS believes would be worth US$3 billion per year in 10 years. Bezos and the other passengers hopped into an SUV vehicle for a short ride to the launch pad before stepping up a tower and boarding the sparkling white spaceship, dressed in blue flight suits and cowboy hats. On one side, it has a blue feather pattern. Before boarding the craft’s capsule, each passenger rang a gleaming bell.
Branson was the first to reach space, but Bezos was scheduled to go higher — 62 miles (100 kilometers) for Blue Origin vs. 53 miles (86 kilometers) for Virgin Galactic — in what experts are calling the world’s first unpiloted space mission with an all-civilian crew. It is Blue Origin’s first crewed space mission.
Two more people joined Jeff, Wally Funk, a pioneering female pilot, is 82 years old, and Oliver Daemen, a recent high school graduate, is 18 years old.
The trip takes place on July 20, 1969, the same day that Americans Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first people to walk on the moon. New Shepard is named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space in 1961.
Members of the Bezos family, Blue Origin staff, and a few bystanders gathered beside the roadway before dawn to see the launch. During the flight, the audience applauded.