Amazon’s Jeff Bezos makes history with all-civilian suborbital flight

The Amazon founder flew to the edge of space with three others aboard a rocket and capsule developed by his private spaceflight company, Blue Origin.

Jeff Bezos, the 57-year-old founder of Amazon, has a new title to add to his résumé: astronaut.

Bezos successfully flew to the edge of space Tuesday aboard a rocket and capsule developed by his private spaceflight company, Blue Origin. The billionaire entrepreneur made history by being part of the first unpiloted suborbital flight with an all-civilian crew. The much-anticipated trip was also the first crewed launch for Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

Bezos launched at around 9:11 a.m. ET from a site in the west Texas desert southeast of El Paso. After liftoff, the New Shepard rocket accelerated toward space at three times the speed of sound. At an altitude of 250,000 feet, the capsule separated, taking Bezos and his crew to the edge of space. The craft then descended under parachutes and landed again in the Texas desert. The entire flight lasted roughly 10 minutes.

“Best day ever,” Bezos radioed to mission controllers after touching down.

Bezos’ flight was a suborbital jaunt, which means he and his crew members didn’t actually enter into orbit around Earth. Rather, the capsule reached the edge of space, at an altitude of more than 65 miles, where the passengers experienced roughly four minutes of weightlessness.

Bezos’ launch was just nine days after another billionaire, British entrepreneur Richard Branson, flew to the edge of space on a rocket-powered vehicle designed by his own space tourism company, Virgin Galactic. Both flights — combined with the competition between the rival billionaires — have captured global attention and garnered interest and enthusiasm for the nascent space tourism industry.

Joining Bezos on the flight were his brother, Mark, and Wally Funk, 82, a former test pilot who was one of the Mercury 13 women who underwent training in the 1960s to demonstrate that women could qualify for NASA’s astronaut corps. Funk is now the oldest person to reach space.

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Rounding out the four-person crew was Oliver Daemen, 18, of the Netherlands, who now holds the title of the youngest astronaut.

In a post-launch press conference, Bezos described the thrill of launching to the edge of space.

“My expectations were high and they were dramatically exceeded,” he said

He also spoke about gazing back at the planet and how that experience reinforced his commitment to solving climate change.

Although Bezos’ suborbital experience was similar to that of Branson, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic operate with different flight profiles. Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered Unity craft launches from a carrier airplane from an altitude of 50,000 feet and is flown by two onboard pilots. Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket and capsule launch vertically and are designed to fly autonomously. Both the rocket and capsule are also designed to be reusable.

Blue Origin’s capsule is also designed to reach a higher altitude than Virgin Galactic’s vehicle. The edge of space is often defined by the so-called Kármán line, at 62 miles. The New Shepard capsule flies above the Kármán line, while Virgin Galactic’s craft reached an altitude of around 53 miles during Branson’s flight, which fueled a budding rivalry between the companies.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Air Force recognize the boundary of space at 50 miles, which means Bezos, Branson and their fellow passengers are all be eligible to get their commercial astronaut wings.


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