Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and three crew members broke several human spaceflight records Tuesday when they launched into orbit aboard a Blue Origin rocket from Texas and landed safely in the desert about 10 minutes later.
At 9:12 a.m., the New Shepard suborbital rocket took off. 160 miles east of El Paso, EDT, from the company’s Corn Ranch launch location.
The crew could be heard shouting and whooping as the capsule approached space on a live transmission. “Up here it’s black!” exclaimed aviator Wally Funk, 82, the world’s oldest person to go into space.
“You have a very happy crew up here, I want you to know,” Bezos said.
About 30 minutes before liftoff, the four crew members ascended the launch tower and walked across a catwalk to the capsule. For the countdown, they were strapped into seats in the capsule.
RSS First Step, a New Shepard rocket, was launched into the cloud-streaked morning sky.
As the crew emerged from the plane, family members greeted them with hugs and champagne.
The rocket, which was nearly five stories tall, reached a top speed of 2,200 mph and produced 110,000 pounds of power. It exerted three times the normal gravitational attraction on Earth.
Bezos “has dreamed of going to space since he was a little boy, and [he] will be sitting in seat number six, right next to the hatch,” said Ariane Cornell, Blue Origin’s director of astronaut sales.
“I literally have had goose bumps … and they haven’t gone away,” said Bezos brother and crewmate Mark Bezos, 53, in an Instagram post prior to launch.
Funk and the Bezos brothers rode into space with passenger Oliver Daemen, 18, now the youngest person to reach space.
Daemen also became the first paying customer on a private company’s spacecraft. His father secured the seat for the teen after a Blue Origin auction June 12. The winner bid $28 million, but backed out because of a scheduling conflict, the company said, and Daemen’s father was the second-highest bid.
“We are also flying, of course, our first paying commercial customer, and the fact that we’re doing this on a private vehicle … from a private launch site is just something that hasn’t been done,” Audrey Powers, vice president resident of New Shepard operations, said during a press conference prior to launch.
On his own company’s private spacecraft, the Blue Origin capsule, Bezos became the second person to reach space. Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Galactic, had set the record just nine days before, but he did it from the public Spaceport America, which is owned by the state of New Mexico and is located 170 miles south of Albuquerque.
The date was chosen by Bezos because it commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. Blue Origin’s long-term goal is to build orbital rockets and facilities on the moon, as well as asteroids and Mars.
Before returning to Earth, the team experiences a few minutes of weightlessness after reaching space.
During a press conference after the flight, the company played video showing the space quartet floating in microgravity with the curvature of the Earth visible through the windows.
“I loved every minute of it,” Funk said. “I just wish it was longer because I … could do a lot more rolls and flips and so forth, but there wasn’t quite enough room for the four of us to do all that.”
“It was a bit more emotional than I would have thought,” Daemen said. “People on the ground were very emotional [after the flight] and we were just having fun.”
Unlike many other spaceports, Blue Origin’s facility is located in a secluded location on a large ranch with no public viewing areas. Hundreds of Blue Origin employees, meanwhile, were seen cheering and watching the broadcast from the company’s headquarters in Kent, Washington.
Blue Origin hopes that the launch will kick off a new era of space tourism, which will lead to increased space exploration.
At the press briefing, Bezos stated that his business aims to fly two more people-carrying flights this year. He said that Blue Origin’s sales are approaching $100 million, and that the company will begin producing more rockets.
“We’re going to build a road to space, so that our kids and their kids can build the future, and we need to do that … to solve the problems here on Earth,” he said.