- Blue Origin founder becomes richest person to visit space…
- Flight goes beyond Virgin Galactic’s…
- Future of space tourism heats up among Branson, Bezos, and Musk…
Jeff Bezos is now the richest person on earth… and in space.
The billionaire successfully completed a space flight aboard his own Blue Origin New Shepard rocket today, alongside three crew members, which included his brother Mark Bezos and both the oldest and youngest astronauts to ever go to space.
New Shepard took off from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas at 9:00 a.m. eastern.
The capsule carrying the crew quickly accelerated to more than three times the speed of sound and flew to a height of more than 80 kilometers.
That height is the official boundary the U.S. uses to mark the edge of space.
But they went even further, crossing the Kármán Line, which is the internationally recognized boundary of space.
The entire flight was 11 minutes long. Upon landing, Bezos declared, “Best day ever!”
Bezos joins fellow billionaire Richard Branson in flying to space, but there are some key differences between the Blue Origin flight and the Virgin Galactic flight.
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Bezos vs Branson
Despite the billionaires denying a competition exists, the space race has been heated between Bezos and Branson.
Although Branson technically was first to take a space flight aboard his own company’s spacecraft, Blue Origin claimed it wasn’t really a true visit to space.
Branson traveled past the boundary of space recognized by the U.S. but did not pass the Kármán Line as Bezos did.
One key difference between the two flights was that Bezos is now the only space founder to ride aboard the first crewed flight of his own company.
Prior to Branson’s flight aboard the VSS Unity, Virgin Galactic flew several test flights with crew members on board.
But Blue Origin had never put anyone on the New Shepard rocket before today’s test with Bezos and company.
The date of the launch was also a historic milestone, as today marks 52 years since the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Bezos became the first to launch a paid customer aboard a space flight as he sets his sights on a future of space tourism.
About the Guests
82-year-old Wally Funk was chosen by Bezos as his “honorable guest” in early July.
A video on Bezos’ Instagram page shows the moment he asked Funk to travel aboard the flight.
In that video, she says she has 19,600 flight hours and has taught more than 3,000 people to fly.
“Everything that the FAA has, I’ve got the license for,” said Funk.
Blue Origin said, “Fulfilling a lifelong mission to become an astronaut, Wally Funk will fly to space on New Shepard’s first human flight on July 20 as an honored guest.”
Her journey to space began in 1961 when she became the youngest graduate of the Woman in Space Program.
That program was “ a privately-funded project which tested female pilots for astronaut fitness… thirteen American women successfully underwent the same physiological and psychological screening tests as the astronauts selected by NASA for Project Mercury, but they never flew to space.”
By 20-years-old she was a professional pilot and became the first flight instructor at Fort Sill Army base in Oklahoma.
Funk later became the first female FAA inspector and the first female air safety investigator for the NTSB.
And today she became the oldest person to ever travel to space.
The flight also included the first paying customer aboard a space flight and the youngest person to ever visit space, 18-year-old Oliver Daemen.
Daemen originally had a seat booked for the second New Shepard flight but was moved up to be the fourth passenger on today’s flight after the previous winner of the auction for the seat was unable to make it due to a scheduling conflict.
The 18-year-old is planning to study innovation and physics at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands and says he has wanted to visit space since he was 4-years-old.
Prior to today, the youngest person to fly to space had been Russian cosmonaut Gherman Titov, who flew on the Soviet Union’s Vostok 2 mission in 1961 at 25-years-old.
CEO Bob Smith said, “This marks the beginning of commercial operations for New Shepard, and Oliver represents a new generation of people who will help us build a road to space.”
Future of Space Tourism
Today’s flight is the first step for Blue Origin to accomplish Bezos’ goal of creating “a future where millions of people are living and working in space to benefit Earth.”
The Blue Origin founder told CNBC, “This is a tiny little step of what Blue Origin is going to do. What we’re really trying to do is build reusable space vehicles. It’s the only way to build a road to space, and we need to build a road to space so that our children can build the future.”
He said he wants visiting space to become as routine as flying on an airplane.
“This suborbital tourism mission lets us practice. We need to do that over and over and over and get as good at running space vehicles as we are as a civilization at running commercial airliners.”
After landing back on earth Bezos said, “It felt so comfortable and natural”.
When asked if he was going to do it again, he responded enthusiastically saying, “Hell yeah!”
Smith said the next flight for Blue Origin will likely be in late September or early October.
And it isn’t just Branson and Bezos duking it out in the world of space tourism.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk will soon get in on the action too with the Inspiration4 Mission.
That mission will take 4 civilians to space inside a Crew Dragon capsule launched on a Falcon 9 rocket.
It’s the same system SpaceX already uses to launch NASA astronauts to space.
The mission is expected to launch in September and the passengers are expected to remain in low earth orbit for about 3 days.
That’s much longer than the quick trips to space accomplished so far by Branson and Bezos.
Musk has also set his sights on the moon with the dearMoon project.
That project is being funded by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and will use a SpaceX starship on a private spaceflight around the moon.
The flight is expected to launch in 2023 with Maezawa, 8 civilians, and two crew members on board.
Featured image editorial credit: lev radin / Shutterstock.com