Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, accompanied by the oldest and the youngest humans ever to reach space, landed safely in Texas Tuesday after their mission’s “nominal flight” provided another boost to space tourism.
Bezos, brother Mark, 82-year-old Mary “Wally” Funk and 18-year old Dutch student Oliver Daeman launched aboard Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard spacecraft on the 52nd anniversary of the first moon landing in 1969.
The world’s richest man described it as his “best day ever” after the journey took just over 10 minutes and crossed the Karman line, the boundary 100kms above the Earth defining the boundary between atmosphere and space.
Watch the entire flight.
Bezos was beaten to the punch by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic on July 11 but the Blue Origin capsule went higher. Branson tweeted his congratulations to the crew.
The Blue Origin mission reached 2233mph (3595kph ) before reaching an altitude of 105km (65.24m) above ground level and allowing the crew to experience about three minutes of weightlessness while viewing the Earth through windows billed as the largest in space.
The fully-automated booster and capsule both appeared to function as planned, with the rocket auto-landing on target and the capsule drifting gently to earth on three parachutes before retrograde rockets softened the landing.
New Shepard, named after Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard, flew 15 test flights before its billionaire backer and his three crewmates were launched into space.
Bezos noted the mission profile of New Shepard was similar to the profile Shepard flew when he became the first American in space.
The trip was particularly sweet for Funk, who trained to be an astronaut in 1961 as part of the “Mercury 13” project but was excluded from reaching orbit at the time.
The 13 women in the privately-funded project were put through the same screening tests as the astronauts selected for Project Mercury but were never part of NASA’s astronaut program.
Funk, an aviator, went on to become the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board as well as the first civilian flight instructor at Fort Sill in Oklahoma and the first female FAA inspector.
NASA was subsequently criticized for not including women in its early space programs.
Funk thanked Bezos for the chance to get into space, saying “I want to go again, fast”.
“I’ve been waiting a long time to finally get it up there,” she said, noting she had done lot of astronaut training “and I can always beat the guys”.
The space tourism projects have been criticized by some people who believe the money would be better spent fighting issues such as poverty and climate change on Earth.
Responding to the criticism, Bezos said there was a need to do both.
“We have lots of problems here and now on Earth and we need to work on those and we also need to look to the future,” he said.
“We’ve always done that as a civilization. We have to do both.”
Blue Origin plans another two human flights this year but Bezos told a post-flight press conference that the technology used by New Shepard was a forerunner to bigger things such as its heavy-lift New Glenn rocket.
He said the company was not yet sure what it would do the following year but it wanted the cadence of missions to be high.
“We’re approaching $US100m in private sales already and the demand is very, very high so we’re going to keep after that because we really do want to practice with this vehicle,” ‘he said.
“So we’re going to have to build more boosters to fly more frequently and we’re going to be doing that and working on all the operational things we need to do and all the things we learned.”
Bezos described the flight as the first step “in something big”, adding “I know what that feels like, I did it …almost three decades ago with Amazon.”
“We’re going to build a road to space so that our kids and their kids can build the future,” he said.
“And we need to do that, we need to do that to solve the problems here on Earth.”