Jeff Bezos, Amazon leader and richest man in the world, alongside three additional crew members successfully reached the edge of space onboard his company’s Blue Origin rocket, ‘New Shepard’.
Based at Blue Origin’s company site in West Texas, the crew launched into space at 9:12 am on Tuesday, the 52nd anniversary of Apollo 11, and only 9 days after billionaire Richard Branson’s space flight on Virgin Galactic. Accompanying Bezos on the flight, was his younger brother Mark and two history-making passengers: Wally Funk, an 82-year-old lifelong aviator and the oldest person ever to fly to space, and Oliver Daeman, an 18-year-old Dutch physics student and the youngest person ever to fly to space.
While the once-in-a-lifetime space flight only lasted ten minutes, Bezos and his crewmates were able to enjoy three minutes of weightlessness by floating around the cabin and soaking in the inspiring view of Earth’s curvature through the largest windows ever built on a spacecraft. The crew members marveled in the profound experience with an abundance of overjoyed somersaults, playfully throwing each other skittles, and tossing around ping pong balls before strapping back into their seats and returning to Earth. New Shepard and its crew members prepared for their re-entry, and once close enough, began their 16-mph descent back to the launch pad with the help of three parachutes. The spacecraft’s reusable booster successfully landed a few moments before. Receiving help to safely exit the capsule, all four crewmembers emerged as newly crowned astronauts — spirits high and smiles wide.
The spacecraft capsule reached a maximum altitude of 66.5 miles, about 10 miles farther than Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceflight. Despite the differences, both space flights were still well above the 50-mile Earth-Space boundary, recognized by NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration as the distance where wings, rudders, and other aero surfaces no longer have any effect.
It is no secret that the billionaire space race is opening the door to the future of space tourism. With Richard Branson’s space flight on Virgin Galactic, Jeff Bezos’s space flight on New Shepard, and Elon Musk, owner of SpaceX, soon to launch a civilian-led multi-day space flight sometime in the fourth quarter of the year, conversations about space tourism are becoming more popular. An idea that was once unfathomable is now shifting into a newfound reality.
Blue Origin is planning to launch three more New Shepard flights, one with science payloads and two with passengers onboard by the end of this year. Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos have yet to announce how much tickets will be to fly to space. Although the competition is already in full swing, Virgin Galactic offers space flights starting at an astounding $250,000 per passenger.
As the world continues to watch billionaires fly to space, many speculators often beg the question “why can’t they help solve the problems here on Earth first?” And although there is much validity behind such questions, we can only hope it inspires those who can experience the profoundness of space, to truly see the fragility of our vastly unique planet and harness a sense of urgency to help save it.