With excited shouts of “woo-hoo” and “yeah” aboard the weightless cockpit, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos made a successful flight aboard New Shepard this morning at 8:00 am from its launchpad outside of Van Horn, Texas. The rocket had a maximum velocity of 2,233 mph and lasted exactly 10 minutes, 10 seconds.
Bezos was joined by his brother, Mark, flying legend Wally Funk, and Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen. Funk, 82, and Daeman, 18, will be the oldest and youngest people who have traveled to space.
The flight follows Sir Richard Branson’s successful space trip aboard Virgin Galactic’s Unity22 on July 12.
Funk had been part of the 1960s Mercury 13 program that trained women to go into space, but that was canceled. With 19,600 hours, she has long wanted to be an astronaut. “Everything the FAA has, I’ve got the license for,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d ever get up into space. But I like to do everything first.”
Bezos, who put himself on the rocket’s first crewed flight, said he wants to make space travel safe and routine, and eventually bring millions to space.
The New Shepard can carry six people and will operate autonomously. Its rocket and capsule, designed to be reusable, launches and lands vertically. It has been tested 15 times without passengers. The capsule separated from the rocket at 250,000 feet and continued on to more than 62 miles above the Earth, allowing the participants a few minutes of weightlessness. New Shepard then descended and landed in the Texas desert, where the astronauts were then retrieved.
Blue Origin’s rocket and space capsule is faster than Virgin Galactic’s vehicle to reach the edge of space, so the entire flight took 11 minutes. Virgin Galactic used a separate aircraft called Eve to carry the six-seat Unity22 before releasing it. It fired a rocket engine to take it up to 50 miles.
The interior of the Blue Origin craft was designed to be spacious, with the ability to float around for the few minutes of weightlessness. The capsule’s big windows measure 3.5 feet by 2.3 feet, making them six times larger than a Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner. “We would’ve made it out of all glass if we could’ve,” said one of the designers during the livestream.
“You have a very happy crew in here,” said Bezos from the capsule. “This is the best day ever. I was surprised how easy Zero G is. It’s like swimming.”
Back on Earth, the four newly minted astronauts were effusive during the press conference. “My expectations were high but they were dramatically exceeded,” said Bezos. “Zero G felt so normal, almost as if humans had evolved to be there. Seeing the Earth and its atmosphere, I was amazed and awestruck. Not just for its beauty but also its fragility.”
Having recently resigned as chairman of Amazon, Bezos says he plans to split his time between Blue Origin and the Bezos Earth Fund.
Blue Origin plans to do two more space missions this year, but the company has not announced how many trips will happen next year. It has received more than $100 million in private sales for those wishing to travel to space. “We’re at the barnstorming stage at this point, selling a few rides here and there,” said Bezos. “Eventually it will lead to the equivalent of flying 787s. We’re in the first small steps of something big.”