VAN HORN, Texas – Jeff Bezos is the richest person in the world and is now the first to hold that title while away from earth.
Blue Origin introduced him to space history on Tuesday, with Bezos driving his company’s first manned New Shepard rocket alongside his brother and the oldest and youngest people to have ever flown in space.
The capsule with the crew of Blue Origin accelerated to more than three times the speed of sound before reaching 80 kilometers (or about 262,000 feet), the limit the US uses to mark the edge of space. The crew hovered in weightlessness for a few minutes before the capsule returned and landed under a set of parachutes.
A seat and the view from inside a New Shepard capsule on the edge of space.
In addition to his unique fortune, Bezos, 57, is also the sole founder of space to operate his company’s first manned flight. While SpaceX and Virgin Galactic have already launched astronauts, Bezos is the first to embark on the first crew flight.
Floating next to him: Wally Funk, 82, and Oliver Daemen, 18 – the oldest and youngest people ever to have flown in space – and Bezos’ brother Mark, 53.
From left: Oliver Daemen, Wally Funk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos.
via @jeffbezos on Instagram
Bezos invited his brother and Funk, a space pioneer, to join the flight. Daemen was a late addition. His seat was originally part of a public auction, but the auction winner, an anonymous person who bid $ 28 million to fly Bezos, was unable to meet the July 20th launch date. Daemen’s father Joes, CEO of a private equity firm in the Netherlands, was also a bidder, with Daemen being the paying passenger on Blue Origin’s second crew launch. When the mysterious bidder stepped down, the company rescheduled Daemen to start first.
The launch on Tuesday also occurred on another historic milestone – the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Bezos’ vision of space
The launch of New Shepard marks a milestone in the Bezos vision. He founded Blue Origin with the goal of “creating a future where millions of people in space live and work to help the earth”.
Both the New Shepard rocket and the capsule on it are reusable and can take off, land and restart multiple times. The missile system is in many ways a trailblazer for other, larger Blue Origin projects – like the New Glenn orbital rocket.
An artist’s illustration of a New Glenn rocket on the launch pad in Florida.
Like New Shepard, the New Glenn rocket booster is designed to be reusable, with the company expecting each one to take off and land 25 times. New Glenn, with a first launch date for late 2022, is about 320 feet tall and is expected to lift nearly 50 tons of payload into low earth orbit.
Blue Origin has also developed several engines to power its two rockets, including the BE-3, BE-4, and BE-7 engines.
Blue Origin is testing one of the BE-4 rocket engines the company is developing for the launch of its New Glenn rocket.
Blue origin | gif from @thesheetztweetz
Fourth, and finally, Blue Origin is working on a manned lander called Blue Moon, which the company hopes will one day bring astronauts and cargo to the surface of the moon.
A mural depicting Jeff Bezo and his brother Mark Bezo is seen in Van Horn, Texas, two days prior to the scheduled launch of Blue Origin’s maiden flight to the edge of space by American billionaire Jeff Bezos and his three crew members in the nearby town Van Horn, Texas, USA July 18, 2021.
Thom Baur | Reuters
The company’s only direct competition in the market for bringing space tourists to the edge of space is Branson’s Virgin Galactic, a sector known as suborbital tourism. SpaceX is preparing to launch its first private mission called Inspiration4 in September, but Elon Musk’s company is sending its capsules further into space on multi-day flights, known as orbital tourism.
Both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic developed rocket-powered starships, but that’s where the similarities end. As Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket launches vertically from the ground, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo system is deployed in the air and returns to Earth like an airplane for a runway landing.
And while Blue Origin takes off autonomously, the Virgin Galactic system is flown by two pilots. Branson’s company has so far conducted four test flights in space but does not expect to fly paying customers before 2022.
Blue Origin’s auction raised $ 28 million, but a seat on a suborbital spaceship is usually much cheaper. Virgin Galactic has historically sold reservations between $ 200,000 and $ 250,000 per ticket and recently billed the Italian Air Force about $ 500,000 per ticket for a training room flight.
The tourism market is a thriving part of the space economy valued at more than $ 420 billion. Yet its high standing – given the much more exciting human element – means it has a strong and far-reaching impact on the space industry, with investors often pointing to astronaut flights to add to excitement about the broader impact of the alien market.
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