Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, and three crewmates have soared high above the Texas desert aboard his space in an historic suborbital flight that helps to inaugurate a new era of private commercial space tourism.
Mr Bezos was almost lost for words after returning to land, but said the adventure in Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle had given him his “best day ever”.
“My expectations were high, and they were drastically exceeded,” he said.
“The zero G (gravity) piece may have been one of the biggest surprises because it felt so normal, it felt almost like humans evolved to be in that environment. … It’s a very pleasurable experience.”
He added that he was awestruck by the Earth’s beauty but also its “fragility”.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 20, 2021
The 57-year-old US billionaire flew on a voyage lasting about 10 minutes and 20 seconds to the edge of space, nine days after British billionaire Richard Branson was aboard his competing space tourism company Virgin Galactic’s successful inaugural suborbital flight from New Mexico.
The mission was part of a fiercely competitive battle between Mr Bezos’ Blue Origin and fellow Mr Branson’s Virgin Galactic to tap a potentially lucrative space tourism market the Swiss bank UBS estimates will be worth $US3 billion ($4.1 billion) annually in a decade.
Mr Bezos, wearing a blue flight suit and cowboy hat, and the other passengers climbed into an SUV vehicle for a short drive to the launch pad before walking up a tower and getting aboard the gleaming white spacecraft, with a blue feather design on its side.
Each passenger rang a shiny bell before boarding the craft’s capsule.
The spacecraft ignited its BE-3 engines for a lift-off from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One facility about 32 kilometres outside the rural town of Van Horn.
There were generally clear skies with a few patchy clouds on a cool morning for the launch.
“They are in for the flight of a lifetime,” launch presenter Ariane Cornell of Blue Origin said on a live webcast.
Here's to astronaut Wally Funk 🚀 At 82, she became the oldest person to fly to space today. An aviation pioneer who has spent her life paving this path to space 🤩 happy #WallyFunk Day 💞 congratulations team @blueorigin 💫 pic.twitter.com/lKYwYbHq1v
— Dr. Norah Patten 🚀 (@SpaceNorah) July 20, 2021
Mr Branson got to space first, but Mr Bezos was due to fly higher – 100 kilometres for Blue Origin compared to 86 kilometres for Virgin Galactic – in what experts call the world’s first unpiloted space flight with an all-civilian crew.
It represents Blue Origin’s first crewed flight to space.