The wealthiest man on the planet Jeff Bezos spent a few minutes in space Tuesday on Blue Origin’s first human mission, a key moment for a fledgling industry seeking to make the final frontier accessible to elite tourists.
“A very happy group of people in this capsule,” said Bezos after the spaceship touched down in the west Texas desert following an 10-minute hop to the Karman line and back.
The four-member crew exchanged high-fives and hugged family who came to meet them at the landing site.
Earlier, the New Shepard capsule reached at an altitude of 66.5 miles (107 kilometers), allowing the passengers to experience weightlessness while admiring the curve of the Earth.
“It’s dark up here,” said barrier-breaking female aviator Wally Funk, who joined Bezos, his brother and 18-year-old Dutchman Oliver Daemen, who became the youngest ever astronaut.
Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson made the voyage on July 11, narrowly beating the Amazon magnate in their battle of the billionaires.
But Blue Origin’s sights were set higher: both in the altitude to which its reusable New Shepard craft would ascend compared to Virgin’s spaceplane, and in its ambitions.
Bezos, 57, founded Blue Origin in 2000 with the goal of one day building floating space colonies with artificial gravity where millions of people will work and live.
Today, the company is developing a heavy-lift orbital rocket called New Glenn and also a Moon lander it is hoping to contract to NASA.
Named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space, the New Shepard suborbital rocket had flown 15 uncrewed flights to put it through its paces and test safety mechanisms.
Lift-off was slightly delayed and came at 1312 GMT from a remote facility in the west Texas desert called Launch Site One, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of the nearest town, Van Horn.
“This might have looked easy today, it was anything but easy,” said Gary Lai, lead designer of New Shepard.