World’s richest man Jeff Bezos makes his first space trip
VAN HORN, Texas, July 20 (Reuters) – World’s richest man Jeff Bezos and three teammates hovered over the Texas desert aboard his Blue Origin space company’s New Shepard launcher on Tuesday and are safe return to Earth, a historic suborbital flight that is helping usher in a new era of private commercial space tourism.
The spacecraft fired its BE-3 engines for takeoff from the facility at Blue Origin’s Launch Site 1 about 32 km from the rural town of Van Horn, flying about 107 km above the surface of the planet. The sky was mostly clear with a few scattered clouds on a cool morning for the launch.
The 57-year-old American billionaire made an approximately 10-minute and 20-second trip to the edge of space, nine days after Britain’s Richard Branson was aboard the maiden suborbital flight of his rival space tourism company Virgin Galactic from New Mexico.
New Shepard was designed to hurtle down at speeds in excess of 2,200 miles (3,540 km) per hour at an altitude beyond the so-called Kármán Line – 62 miles (100 km) – defined by an international aviation body as defining the border between the Earth’s atmosphere and space.
After separating the capsule from the booster, the crew had to unbuckle themselves for a few minutes of weightlessness. Then the capsule returned to Earth under parachutes, using a last-minute back-thrust system that expelled an “air cushion” for a soft landing in the Texas desert.
Bezos nodded from inside the capsule after landing on the desert floor before exiting, wearing a cowboy hat and blue flight suit, and giving company employees a high five .
The mission was part of a fierce battle between Bezos’ Blue Origin and billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic to tap a potentially lucrative space tourism market. The Swiss bank UBS estimates that it will represent 3 billion dollars per year in a decade.
Bezos and the other passengers boarded an SUV for a short drive to the launch pad before climbing a tower and boarding the sparkling white spaceship, with a blue feather on its side. Each passenger rang a shining bell before boarding the capsule of the craft.
Branson went to space first, but Bezos was expected to fly higher – 62 miles (100 km) for Blue Origin versus 53 miles (86 km) for Virgin Galactic – in what experts call the first unmanned space flight in the United States. world with a civilian whole. crew. This is Blue Origin’s first crewed flight into space.
Bezos, founder of e-commerce company Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), and his brother Mark Bezos, a private equity executive, were joined by two other people. Pioneer aviator Wally Funk, 82, and recent high school graduate Oliver Daemen, 18, are becoming the oldest and youngest people to reach space.
Bezos kissed Funk after landing.
The flight coincides with the birthday of Americans Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin who became the first humans to walk on the moon, July 20, 1969. New Shepard is named after Alan Shepard, who in 1961 became the first American in space.
Funk was part of the Mercury 13 women’s group who trained to be NASA astronauts in the early 1960s, but was ignored due to her gender. Daemen, Blue Origin’s first paying customer, will study the physics and management of innovation in the Netherlands. His father, who runs investment management firm Somerset Capital Partners, was on hand to watch his son soar into space.
The launch was attended by members of the Bezos family and Blue Origin employees, and a few spectators gathered along the highway before dawn. Spectators applauded during the flight.
New Shepard is an 18.3-meter-tall, fully self-contained rocket-capsule combo that cannot be flown from inside the spacecraft. It is entirely computer-controlled and had no astronauts or qualified Blue Origin personnel on board.
Virgin Galactic used a space plane with a pair of pilots on board.
The reusable Blue Origin booster had already flown into space twice.
The launch marked another milestone in the race to create a space tourism industry that Swiss investment bank UBS says will grow to $ 3 billion a year within a decade. Another billionaire tech mogul, Elon Musk, plans to send an all-civilian crew on a multi-day orbital mission to his Crew Dragon capsule in September.
On Twitter, Musk wished the Blue Origin team “good luck” hours before the launch.
Blue Origin is targeting the first of two additional passenger flights this year in September or October.
Blue Origin seems to have a reservoir of future customers. More than 6,000 people from at least 143 countries took part in an auction to become the first paying customer. The winner of the auction, who made a bid of $ 28 million, abandoned Tuesday’s theft, clearing the way for Daemen. Virgin Galactic said 600 people have booked reservations, priced at around $ 250,000 per ticket.
Branson said he ultimately aims to lower the price to around $ 40,000 per seat.
Bezos has a net worth of $ 206 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He stepped down this month as CEO of Amazon, but remains its executive chairman.
Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Van Horn, Texas; Additional reporting Radhika Anilkumar; Editing by Will Dunham and Timothy Heritage
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