- Blue Origin intends to send tourists past the so-called Karman line.
- The billionaire race for space is big business.
- The trip is the culmination of a 20-year journey for Bezos with his company, Blue Origin.
Billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his New Shepard rocket crew blasted off Tuesday from the West Texas desert, bound for space and glory and returning safely to Earth about 11 minutes later.
“Liftoff! #NewShepard has cleared the tower with Jeff, Mark, Wally, and Oliver on board,” tweeted his space tourism company, Blue Origin.
The crew were given spectacular views of Earth from space along with three or four minutes of weightlessness before returning. The booster rocket touched down smoothly about seven minutes after liftoff. The craft containing the astronauts landed with parachutes a few minutes later.
Bezos launched not only a quick trip to space but what the world’s richest man hopes will be a profitable business. Blue Origin plans two more flights this year alone. Today’s flight marked the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic crew hurtled historically to the edge of space last week. Bezos and his Blue Origin team say they breached it today.
It’s the 16th flight for New Shepard but the first to include people. Bezos and Blue Origin have been somewhat dismissive of Branson’s flight nine days ago, saying Virgin Galactic’s top altitude of 53.5 miles came up short of reaching true space.
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NASA, the Air Force, the Federal Aviation Administration and some astrophysicists consider the boundary between the atmosphere and space to begin 50 miles up. Thus passengers on Virgin Galactic tourist trips, which can reach a maximum altitude of about 55 miles, will earn astronaut wings.
Blue Origin intends to send tourists about 66 miles up. That’s past the so-called Karman line, 62 miles above Earth, recognized by most international aviation and aerospace federations as the threshold of space.
“Only 4% of the world recognizes a lower limit of 80 km or 50 miles as the beginning of space,” Blue Origin tweeted ahead of Branson’s flight. “New Shepard flies above both boundaries. One of the many benefits of flying with Blue Origin.”
The billionaire race for space is big business. Blue Origin employs thousands across several states and campuses. Virgin Galactic has more than 800 employees. Both companies hope to ultimately sell tickets for $200,000 a seat or more.
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New Shepard, a fully automated, 60-foot rocket and capsule, is designed primarily for space tourism thanks to automated flight systems, large windows and a modern interior. After liftoff, the booster returns to the facility for a vertical landing while the capsule briefly floats in space, then touches down near the launch site with the help of parachutes.
Branson, 71, and a crew of two pilots and three mission specialists were carried to an altitude of more than eight miles by the aircraft VMS Eve, named after Branson’s mother. Live video then showed the space plane VSS Unity release from between the mother ship’s twin fuselages, using rocket power to fly to the somewhat disputed boundary of space,.
Like Branson, Bezos, 57, will provide his New Shepard vehicle the ultimate endorsement by becoming the first to fly it. Also on board will be his brother Mark, longtime women-in-space advocate Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk, and Oliver Daemen, the defacto winner of an auction for the capsule’s fourth seat. Funk, 82, will be the oldest person in space. Daemen, 18, will be the youngest.
For Bezos, the Amazon founder whose wealth has been estimated at $177 billion, the short trip was the culmination of a 20-year journey with his company, Blue Origin. The flight was the company’s most high-profile, defining moment.
Mark Bezos, 53, is an entrepreneur and volunteer firefighter at the Scarsdale Fire Department in Scarsdale, New York. Jeff Bezos said he considers his brother his oldest, closest friend. Funk is famous for her part in the “Mercury 13,” a group of women who went through privately funded, unofficial astronaut training in the 1960s but were not selected to fly NASA missions.
“I never thought that I would get to go up,” Funk said after Bezos selected her for the flight.
Daemen, a physics student from the Netherlands, was runner-up in an auction for the seat. The first-place winner, who bid a whopping $28 million, opted to remain anonymous and fly a future New Shepard mission instead. Daemen’s father, Joes, is the founder of Dutch hedge fund Somerset Capital Partners.
“I am super excited to go to space,” he said. “I have been dreaming about this all my life.”