On Tuesday, shortly after 9 a.m. ET, Jeff Bezos launched on an excursion to the edge of space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard, a reusable suborbital rocket. Bezos, the world’s richest person, is the second billionaire to make it into space this month, after Richard Branson’s pioneering space tourism flight aboard his Virgin Galactic spaceplane.
Although Bezos was one-upped by Branson who stole the start of the ‘billionaire space race’, today’s 11-minute flight claims its own fair share of world firsts. The suborbital flight made it past the Kármán Line, the internationally-recognized boundary of space, at nearly 62 miles (100 km) above Earth’s surface, whereas Virgin Galactic only reached 57 miles (91 km) altitude. So, technically, some argue, Bezos was the only one to make it into space out of the two.
“Only 4% of the world recognizes a lower limit of 80 km or 50 miles as the beginning of space,” Blue Origin tweeted ahead of Branson’s flight. “New Shepard flies above both boundaries. One of the many benefits of flying with Blue Origin.”
Joining Jeff was his younger brother, Mark Bezos, 82-year-old pioneering female aviator Wally Funk, now officially the world’s oldest astronaut, and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutch physics student who is also the world’s youngest astronaut. The flight took place on the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Bezos made it in space. Sort of
Both Bezos and Branson only spent moments in the weightlessness of microgravity. From launch to touch down, the entire trip only took 11 nerve-wracking minutes. That’s a far cry from the conventional picture of outer space travelm with astronauts floating in space as they circle Earth.
New Shepard, a vertical take-off and landing space vehicle, reached 2,300 mph (3,700 km/h), or about three times the speed of sound. Once the rocket ran out of fuel, the capsule carrying the crew separated and briefly continued its journey upwards while the booster safely landed on a platform. After a brief couple of minutes of weightlessness, the capsule deployed a plume of parachutes to slowly descend towards the ground. There was no pilot onboard as the Blue Origin capsule is operated by a fully automated flight system.
“Congratulations to all of Team Blue past and present on reaching this historic moment in spaceflight history,” tweeted Bezos’ space tourism company, Blue Origin. “This first astronaut crew wrote themselves into the history books of space, opening the door through which many after will pass.”
Bezos officially stepped down as Amazon CEO this month. This will leave him with ample time to devote to Blue Origin, the private space flight company he founded in 2000 in which he funneled billions of his own money.
Thanks to massive advances in space flight, particularly in terms of reusability, Blue Origin aims to become a major player in the private space industry, with its eye on overtaking Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
The rivalry between the two companies has extended to a personal level, with the billionaires often ridiculing each other’s efforts. Well, to be fair, it’s mostly Musk who’s doing all the trolling. Musk has previously called Bezos’ Blue Origin a “copycat,” and made fun of the company’s proposed lunar lander Blue Moon comparing it to “blue balls.”
This was New Shepard’s 16th flight and the first to include people, but more are soon to follow. Blue Origin are two more scheduled flights this year alone. Although it’s not clear how much Blue Origin plans to charge for a seat, however, we do know that Virgin Galactic aims to sell tickets for around $250,000 a pop. Mush himself has reportedly put down a $10,000 deposit for a Virgin flight, although everyone is excited about the day he will take off on one of his SpaceX rockets.