Jeff Bezos blasted off for an 11-minute ride on his company’s rocket, furthering a push to make space tourism viable and fulfilling a childhood dream to explore the heavens.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket soared into the skies over a West Texas launchpad at about 8:12 a.m. local time Tuesday, carrying the world’s richest man, his brother and two others. It’s the first flight with people on board for Blue Origin, which Bezos founded in 2000 with a vision of a future in which millions of people will one day live and work in space. The New Shepherd had previously flown 15 times without a crew.
At an altitude of 47 miles (76 km), a 10-foot-tall capsule with large windows and reclining leather seats will detach from the booster and ascend beyond the Karman line 62 miles above the Earth, where the passengers experience a few minutes of weightlessness and unforgettable views. They then strap back in and freefall toward the desert ground with six parachutes. Just before touchdown, a retro thruster slows the descent for a soft landing.
Blue Origin built suspense around the flight with a well-publicised 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 will be the oldest person to travel to space and Daemen the youngest.
The suborbital journey began 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.