Today (July 20), Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of the spaceflight company Blue Origin, launched into suborbital space with three other people on the first crewed mission of the company’s New Shepard vehicle — a turning point for the man and the space tourism industry.
“Blue Control, Bezos. Best day ever!” Bezos said while in flight.
The autonomous New Shepard, which consists of a rocket topped by a capsule, lifted off from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One near the West Texas town of Van Horn today at 9:11 a.m. EDT (1311 GMT; 8:11 a.m.local time).
You can watch Blue Origin’s historic first space flight on its New Shepard rocket and see Jeff Bezos and crew cross the Kármán line in the following video:
The capsule carried Bezos, his brother Mark, 82-year-old aviation pioneer Wally Funk, and 18-year-old Dutch physics student Oliver Daemen 66.5 miles (107 kilometers) above Earth, then came down for a parachute-aided, dust-raising landing in the West Texas scrublands. The rocket returned safely as well, landing vertically at its designated landing zone. Its descent was marked by a deafening sonic boom, as well as raucous cheers from Blue Origin employees who were watching the flight.
It took just over ten minutes from liftoff to landing for all of this to happen. For the four passengers, however, it was undoubtedly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“I’m so excited. I can’t wait to see what it’s going to be like,” Bezos told NBC’s TODAY on Monday (July 19). “People say they go into space and they come back changed. Astronauts always talk about that, whether it’s the thin limb of the Earth’s atmosphere and seeing how fragile the planet is, that it’s just one planet. So I can’t wait to see what it’s gonna do to me.”
Bezos became the second billionaire to reach space in less than two weeks. Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, flew on the first fully crewed flight of the VSS Unity space plane on July 11, which is operated by Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin’s main competitor in the suborbital space tourism business.
Blue Origin was founded by Jeff Bezos in September 2000, six years after he founded Amazon. For a decade, the spaceflight company operated quietly, mainly hidden from the public.
Blue Origin changed that in 2010, when it was awarded a contract by NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which aimed to encourage the development of private American astronaut taxis to replace the space shuttle, which was about to be retired. The company snagged another contract the next year but didn’t land the big deal; NASA announced in 2014 that it had chosen SpaceX and Boeing’s vehicles, the Crew Dragon and CST-100 Starliner, respectively.
Blue Origin continued to develop its own vehicles, such as New Shepard, which is designed to transport people and payloads to suborbital space on short trips. The 59-foot-tall (18-meter) craft is named after NASA astronaut Alan Shepard, whose suborbital mission on May 5, 1961, was the first crewed spaceflight in the United States.