This morning, a Blue Origin New Shepard rocket launched from the flat Texas desert.
Blue Origin launched the New Shepard model for the 16th time, and the third time this specific rocket and capsule had risen to the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere.
However, it was the vehicle’s first time transporting passengers, including a paying customer.
Fortunately, the flight went off without a hitch. In a couple of minutes, the New Shepard fired its engines and soared to a height of nearly 66 miles, with a spherical capsule detaching from the rocket below.
As their capsule came to a halt and subsequently dropped back toward the Earth, the crew experienced a few minutes of weightlessness.
Three parachutes emerged from the capsule when the rocket landed on the landing pad, hovering above it like huge blue and red jellyfish as the vehicle landed in a spray of dust.
The adventure concluded ten minutes and 18 seconds after it began when Blue Origin staff opened the capsule and led the newly minted astronauts to a throng of family and well-wishers who had gathered to congratulate them.
During the live feed, Gary Lai, the main designer of the New Shepard rocket, said, “It was picture-perfect.”
There are four astronauts in all.
The historic first human mission by Blue Origin took four astronauts above the Karman line.
62 miles above the Earth’s surface, the globally acknowledged (though rather disputed) boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space.
Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon and Blue Origin and the world’s richest person, was the most renowned passenger.
According to Reuters, he has personally funded much of Blue Origin’s 20-year effort to make human spaceflight more frequent by selling approximately $1 billion of Amazon stock each year.
And Bezos may have been picturing this moment for even longer.
According to his high school sweetheart, he may have been motivated to start Amazon to enrich himself sufficiently to fund a space venture like Blue Origin.
After departing the capsule earlier today, he exclaimed on the live broadcast, “Best day ever.”
Along for the voyage were Bezos’ brother, Mark Bezos, a marketing professional and volunteer fireman.
In an Instagram video, he stated, “What a great chance, not only to be able to have this opportunity, but also to be able to accomplish it with my closest friend.”
The flight’s next two passengers, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen made history by becoming the oldest and youngest astronauts, respectively, aged 82 and 18 years old.
Funk, who trained to be an astronaut with NASA in 1961 with a group of women known as the Mercury 13, found the experience particularly meaningful (and unofficially known as the FLATs: First Lady Astronaut Trainees).
The women were not sent into space by NASA, but Funk has been hunting for a way off this rock ever since, according to The New York Times, and even put down a deposit with Virgin Galactic in 2010. She got her to wish today.
In a press conference following the flight, Funk said, “I’ve been waiting a long time to finally get up there.” “The four of us had a terrific time. I’d like to go again, and I’d like to go quickly.”
The crew’s youngest member, the now-youngest human to visit space, was a last-minute addition.
When an as-yet-unidentified winner of the seat, who bid $28 million for the experience,
Daemen, a Dutch student, was pushed up from a later flight owing to “schedule conflicts.”
Joes Daemen, a Dutch hedge fund manager, purchased the seat from Blue Origin for an undisclosed sum.
Space tourism makes a comeback
Space tourism was previously a common occurrence. Dennis Tito, an engineer, and entrepreneur founded the company in 2001.
Space Adventures arranged visits to the International Space Station on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft on an almost annual basis.
However, the experiment came to an end as the space shuttle program began to wind down, and journeys to the International Space Station proved too valuable to sell—even at the average rate of $20 to $40 million.
It’s returned, and this time there are even more ways to flee the earth than before.
Virgin Galactic, in addition to Blue Origin, sent four employees (along with a few plants) into suborbital space, though not quite to the Karman line.
Just over a week ago, it took its first fully crewed flight, and the next trip will most likely be paid.
And SpaceX has teamed up with Space Adventures to send clients into orbit, which is a far more difficult technological task.
Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and SpaceX are all controlled by billionaires, with two of them trading the title of world’s wealthiest individual regularly.
While the globe grapples with climate change, the pandemic, and other crises, all three corporations have faced criticism for pursuing what amounts to a tourism experience for the super-rich.
According to The Guardian, Bezos termed such complaints “mostly correct.”
“We have a lot of problems on Earth right now, and we need to work on them, but we also need to look ahead.
As a species and as a culture, we’ve always done that,” he continued. “We have to do both,” says the narrator.
While Musk envisions a self-contained city on Mars that will transform humanity into a “multi-planetary” society,
Bezos has long envisioned a society in which millions of people live and work in enormous orbital colonies with economies that are inextricably tied to Earth’s—a “super-planetary” future.
Blue Origin now intends to sell more seats for future suborbital launches.
The business may send up two more New Shepard rockets this year, riding high on the success of today’s mission.
“Not only did we achieve it today, but we can do it again and again,” Lai remarked.