The founder of Blue Origin as well as Amazon on Tuesday became the second billionaire to ride his own rocket.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket blast off with its eclectic group of passengers on the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The flight coincides with the anniversary of Americans Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin becoming the first humans to walk on the moon, on July 20, 1969. New Shepard is named for Alan Shepard, who in 1961 became the first American in space.
The world’s richest man Jeff Bezos, who is a founder of ecommerce company Amazon.com Inc. and his brother Mark Bezos, a private equity executive, were joined by two others. Pioneering female aviator Wally Funk, 82, and recent high school graduate Oliver Daemen, 18, become the oldest and youngest people to reach space.
A historic suborbital flight Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle on Tuesday and returned safely to Earth has helped to inaugurate a new era of private commercial space tourism.
The 57-year-old American billionaire flew on a voyage lasting about 10 minutes and 20 seconds to the edge of space, nine days after Briton Richard Branson was aboard his competing space tourism company Virgin Galactic’s successful inaugural suborbital flight from New Mexico.
New Shepard was designed to hurtle at speeds upwards of 3,540 km per hour to an altitude beyond the so-called Kármán line, set by an international aeronautics body as defining the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space.
The mission was part of a fiercely competitive battle between Bezos’ Blue Origin and fellow billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic to tap a potentially lucrative space tourism market the Swiss bank UBS estimates will be worth US $3 billion annually in a decade.
The launch was witnessed by members of the Bezos family and Blue Origin employees, and a few spectators gathered along the highway before dawn. Spectators applauded during the flight.
Another billionaire tech mogul, Elon Musk, plans to send an all-civilian crew on a several-day orbital mission on his Crew Dragon capsule in September.
On Twitter, Musk wished the Blue Origin crew “best of luck” hours before the launch.
Blue Origin aims for the first of two more passenger flights this year to happen in September or October.
The company appears to have a reservoir of future customers. More than 6,000 people from at least 143 countries entered an auction to become the first paying customer. The auction winner, who made a US $28 million bid, dropped out of Tuesday’s flight, opening the way for Daemen. Virgin Galactic has said 600 people have booked reservations, priced at about US $250,000 per ticket.
Bezos’ dream-come-true trip follows 15 successful test flights to space by New Shepard rockets since 2015, all of them unoccupied. If successful, Blue Origin plans two more passenger flights by year’s end.