The final frontier is space, so the famous movie saying goes, and that future came closer on Tuesday as the world’s richest man and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos blasted off to space aboard the New Shepard rocket ship in what is considered a landmark moment for the rising industry of space tourism.
A little past 9 AM at a private launch site near Van Horn, Texas, the rocket ship built by Bezos’ space company Blue Origin had a flawless liftoff, marking the first crewed flight for the New Shepard. The rocket ship fired into space, the engine started smoothly, the crew capsule detached from the rocket upon liftoff, and the booster autonomously landed on the ground pad with seeming ease.
The ship flew 62 miles above the Earth, just crossing the Karman Line, the internationally recognized boundary where outer space starts. It cruised for about 10 minutes, just enough for Bezos and company to take panoramic pictures and toy with their weightlessness, before the crew capsule landed safely back to the surface with the help of three parachutes.
The billionaire didn’t board the rocket ship alone. Also aboard the New Shepard was his brother, Mark Bezos, 82-year-old pilot Wally Funk, and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, a recent high school graduate and Blue Origin’s first paying customer. After a spot was freed by an anonymous winner of a $28 million auction who backed out due to “scheduling conflicts,” Daemen’s father, who placed the second-highest bid, was quick to cop his son’s ticket to space.
Unlike Daemen, though, Funk brought onboard a bounty of experience, having volunteered as a member of the Mercury 13 program, also known as the “Women in Space Program,” in February 1961, and being the first female civilian flight instructor at a US military base.
Following the New Shepard’s suborbital flight on Tuesday, both Daemen and Funk became the youngest and oldest people to fly to space, respectively.
Upon landing back to Earth, Funk was evidently brimming with joy, expressing that she “wants to go again, fast.”
“I’ve been waiting a long time to finally get up there,” Funk said. “I loved it…and the four of us, we had a great time. It was wonderful.”
During the press conference that followed the historic flight, Bezos said that his space trip is a sign for Blue Origin to continue building a road to space where people can live, work, and keep the planet clean. “Blue Origin is working on this today by developing partially and fully reusable launch vehicles that are safe, low cost, and serve the needs of all civil, commercial and defense customers,” the company said.
The billionaire also said that his space company is approaching $100 million in private sales, and is bound to make two more trips by the end of this year.
And thus begins the billionaire space race. Nine days before Bezos’ space flight, Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson, through his company Virgin Galactic, also blasted off to the edge of space aboard the supersonic spacecraft SpaceShipTwo. Meanwhile, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has also mulled over going to space, though he isn’t flying on his own rocket ship, but aboard one by Branson’s Virgin Galactic.
You can watch the complete webcast of the space flight below, care of Blue Origin: