Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, 57, has a new title to add to his resume: Astronaut.
Bezos successfully flew to the edge of space on Tuesday aboard a rocket and capsule developed by his private spaceflight company, Blue Origin. The billionaire entrepreneur made history by participating in the first unmanned suborbital flight with a fully civilian crew. The highly anticipated trip was also the first crewed launch of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.
Bezos was launched at around 9:11 a.m.ET from a site in the West Texas desert, southeast of El Paso. After takeoff, the New Shepard rocket accelerated into space at three times the speed of sound. At an altitude of 250,000 feet, the capsule split apart, taking Bezos and his crew to the edge of space. The craft then descended under a parachute and landed again in the Texas desert. The whole flight lasted about 10 minutes.
“Best day ever,” Bezos told mission controllers over the radio after landing.
Bezos’ flight was a suborbital escapade, meaning he and his crew didn’t actually orbit Earth. Rather, the capsule reached the edge of space, at an altitude of over 65 miles, where the passengers experienced about four minutes of weightlessness.
Bezos’ launch came just nine days after another billionaire, British entrepreneur Richard Branson, flew to the edge of space aboard a rocket-powered vehicle designed by his own. space tourism company, Virgin Galactic. Both flights – combined with competition between rival billionaires – have garnered global attention and sparked interest and enthusiasm for the nascent space tourism industry.
Her brother Mark and Wally Funk, 82, a former test pilot who was one of 13 Mercury women who trained in the 1960s to demonstrate that women could qualify for the Astronaut Corps of the NASA joined Bezos on the flight. Funk is now the oldest person to reach space.
The four-person crew was completed by Oliver Daemen, 18, of the Netherlands, who now holds the title of youngest astronaut.
In a post-launch press conference, Bezos described the thrill of launching at the edge of space.
âMy expectations were high and they were far exceeded,â he said.
He also spoke of his return to the planet and how this experience strengthened his commitment to tackling climate change.
âIt’s actually incredibly thin,â Bezos said of Earth’s atmosphere. “It’s one thing to recognize it intellectually. It’s another to see with your own eyes how fragile it is.”
While Bezos’ suborbital experience is similar to Branson’s, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic operate with different flight profiles. Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered Unity spacecraft is launched from a carrier aircraft at an altitude of 50,000 feet and is piloted by two pilots on board. Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket and capsule launch vertically and are designed to fly autonomously. The rocket and capsule are also designed to be reusable.
Blue Origin’s capsule is also designed to reach higher altitude than Virgin Galactic’s vehicle. The edge of space is often defined by the so-called KÃ¡rmÃ¡n line, 62 miles away. The New Shepard capsule flies over the KÃ¡rmÃ¡n Line, while the Virgin Galactic spacecraft reached an altitude of about 53 miles during Branson’s flight, fueling an emerging rivalry between the companies.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the US Air Force recognize the 50-mile space limit, which means Bezos, Branson, and their fellow travelers are all eligible to get their commercial astronaut wings.
Bezos’ flight was a critical milestone for Blue Origin and the commercial spaceflight industry, which until now has been dominated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The Branson and Bezos flights could open up a potentially lucrative new market for high-priced travel to the far reaches of space.
Blue Origin has yet to announce the cost of tickets for the suborbital rides, but they are expected to cost several hundred thousand dollars. Bezos said the company is planning two more crewed launches this year and eventually hopes to fly with more consistency. He added that interest skyrocketed after Blue Origin announced earlier this year that it would be auctioning a seat on a future flight.
“We are already approaching $ 100 million in private sales,” Bezos said at the press conference. âThe demand is very high.
Still, it will likely take some time to develop the space tourism industry, said Marco Caceres, space industry analyst at Teal Group Corp., an aerospace and defense market analysis firm.
âFlights with these billionaires are good for visibility and attracts attention, but what will add confidence is consistency,â he said. âIt will be important for these companies to show that they can perform numerous flights without major problems and without major accidents.
In addition to the suborbital travel offered by Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, SpaceX is planning orbital tourist flights starting later this year with the first space mission with a fully civilian crew.
While the cost of suborbital and orbital travel will be out of reach for most people, Bezos spoke about the importance of opening up access to space, especially for young scientists and explorers.
“It’s about building a road to space so that future generations can do amazing things in space,” he said on Monday on “TODAY”.
Bezos, Branson, and Musk have all faced backlash for what some see as self-centered or frivolous ventures. But for Jim Cantrell, CEO of Phantom Space, an Arizona-based startup that aims to build and launch commercial satellites, the critics ignore the potential long-term benefits of investing in space technology.
âThese guys are doing something they think is fundamental to the future of humanity, and this is just the first step,â said Cantrell, a former SpaceX executive.
âThese are the entrepreneurs who have helped solve a lot of problems on Earth,â he said. “People should embrace this spirit of exploration, because it’s the same kind of mentality that has found cures for diseases and given us better medicines.”