Van Horn, Texas – Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, went into space on Tuesday. It was a brief blowout more than 65 miles in the sky over west Texas aboard a spacecraft built by Mr Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin.
“Best day ever,” Mr Bezos said once the dust settled near the capsule’s launch site.
The flight, even though it did not enter orbit, was a milestone for the company that Amazon founder Mr. Bezos began more than 20 years ago, marking the first time a Blue Origin vehicle took people into space.
Mr. Bezos himself sat in the capsule, reflecting his enthusiasm for the endeavor and perhaps indicating his intention to give Blue Origin the focus and creative entrepreneurship that made Amazon one of the most powerful economic forces on the planet. But the short duration of the trip also highlighted the company’s slow pace of progress and how far Mr. Bezos is from capturing a significant piece of the emerging space economy, bolstering his vision of the vast number of people living and working in space. Leave it to completion.
However, the launch went smoothly as planned on Tuesday.
At 8:11 a.m. central time, the stubby rocket and capsule, named New Shepard, named after Alan Shepard, the first American to go to space, lifted off from the company’s launch site in Van Horn, a thin jet of fire and exhaust streaming from the rocket’s engine. was.
Over the past six years, Blue Origin has operated 15 successful test flights without people, and engineers assumed the New Shepard was finally ready for passengers—their owners included.
The other three passengers were Mr. Bezos’ brother, Mark; Oliver Damen, a Dutch student who was Blue Origin’s first paid traveler; and Mary Wallace Funk, a pilot who in the 1960s was among a group of women who passed the same rigorous astronaut selection criteria employed by NASA, but who, as of Tuesday, never got a chance to board a rocket. met.
At 18, Mr. Damon was the youngest person ever to go into space. At 82, Ms. Funk, who goes by Wally, was the oldest.
“Thank you,” Ms. Funk later told Mr. Bezos.
Once the booster had used up its propellant, the capsule separated from the rocket at an altitude of about 47 miles. Both fragments continued to move upward for 66.5 miles, crossing the 62-mile boundary often considered the beginning of outer space.
Mr Bezos and the passengers experienced the fall for about four minutes, without buckling and floating around the capsule.
The booster landed vertically, similar to rival spaceflight company SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 booster. The capsule then descended under a parachute until it slowly descended into a plume of dust.
Ten minutes and 10 seconds after launch, it was over. A few minutes later, all four gleefully exited the capsule.
The Amazon founder’s short journey was the end of a phase of a journey that began decades ago.
Mr. Bezos, a child during the Apollo era of the 1960s and 1970s, said In 2014 that “Space is something I’ve fallen in love with since I was 5 years old.”
But that passion long overshadowed his early business ventures. Mr Bezos, now 57, first worked on Wall Street and then started Amazon in 1994. Six years later he founded Blue Origin. But building Amazon — his “day job,” as he once called it — consumed the vast majority of his time, as he turned it into one of the most powerful and feared retail forces ever.
In recent years, he typically spends one day a week — usually Wednesdays — focusing on Blue Origin, and in 2017 he announced he would spend $1 billion a year on Amazon to fund the space venture. Will sell stock.
In 2018, he surpassed Bill Gates to become the richest person in the world. Space exploration rose to the top of his spending list.
“The only way I can see to deploy that much financial resource is converting my Amazon winnings into space travel,” he said. said, to resort to their investment as a form of philanthropy.
Mr. Bezos described a vision that has been influenced by proposals from Princeton physicist Gerard K. O’Neill, who in the 1970s proposed giant cylinder-shaped space colonies that would lead to large numbers of more people and industry. The support will be more than possible on earth.
“The solar system could easily support a trillion humans,” Mr. Bezos said. “If we had a trillion humans, we would have a thousand Einsteins and a thousand Mozarts and unlimited for all practical purposes, resources and solar energy.”
In contrast, SpaceX founder Elon Musk has focused on the idea of settling on Mars. Getting to Mars is an easier task than building one of O’Neill’s colonies, but making cold and airless Mars hospitable to human civilization would be a huge undertaking.
Andy Jesse, one of Mr Bezos’ top deputy, took over as Amazon’s chief executive earlier this month, and Mr Bezos said he wants to focus more on Blue Origin and his other ventures.
“I’ve never had more energy, and it’s not about retiring,” he told Amazon employees. “I think I’m very passionate about the impact of these organizations.”
To get such a powerful effect, Blue Origin would need much more than a tiny New Shepard vehicle.
In the short term, Blue Origin’s competition is Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company started by Richard Branson. When Mr. Branson made a similar suborbital trip last week, it was easy to explain that Mr. Branson had defeated Mr. Bezos in space.
For the first flight, Blue Origin auctioned off one of the seats going to Mr. Bezos’ space-focused nonprofit, Club for the Future. The winning bid was $28 million, an amount that stunned even Blue Origin executives.
The 7,600 people who participated in the auction provided Blue Origin with a list of potential paying customers, and the company has begun selling tickets to some of them.
When the auction winner, who remains anonymous, decided to skip the first flight and ride later, Blue Origin contacted Mr. Damon, who had tickets for the second flight.
Blue Origin declined to say what the price is or how many people signed up, but a spokesperson says there’s a strong demand.
Yet Mr. Bezos has always had ambitions much higher than space tourism. And Blue Origin’s achievements are next to those of a rocket company led by one of the world’s richest people: SpaceX, which Mr. Musk founded a few years after Blue Origin started.
SpaceX is already a giant in the space business. It regularly carries NASA astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station, it has already deployed more than 1,500 satellites in its Starlink constellation to provide internet service everywhere, and it is able to reach Mars and other satellites. is developing a giant rocket called Starship for space missions.
Blue Origin’s projects are not designed to advance the space industry like SpaceX’s.
The New Glenn, a large reusable rocket for launching satellites, is still more than a year away, and efforts to win major government contracts such as launching defense satellites have so far gone blank. A lunar lander that Blue Origin hopes NASA will someday use to carry astronauts was not chosen, at least not for the time being, as NASA said it only had money for one design. – SpaceX.
Blue Origin’s mascot is the tortoise. As in the fable “The Tortoise and the Rabbit,” perhaps with steady, relentless effort, Blue Origin could catch on.
NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver during the Obama administration recalled Mr. Bezos going to Washington to meet with him and Charles Bolden, Administrator. At the time, Blue Origin was an enigma.
“We were thrilled to hear about his plan,” said Ms Garver. “It was: ‘I’m here because I’m investing in a space company. I’m willing to invest a lot over the long term. And my goals are very much connected with NASA. So if I can help in any way I can. I can, so let’s work together.'”
Blue Origin was working on a capsule that could carry astronauts to the International Space Station, and it won a modest $25.6 million development contract from NASA. But work on that vehicle stalled, and Blue Origin fell out of competition for the contracts that eventually went to Boeing and SpaceX.
“Slow and steady was slower than anyone expected,” said Ms. Garver.
But the comparison to SpaceX’s extraordinary successes is somewhat unfair, she said.
“We’re really screwed by SpaceX right now,” Ms. Garver said.
At some point during its career, if a well-financed company like Blue Origin shows up with its objective of building affordable, reusable rockets and spacecraft, “we’ll all be blown away,” she said.
Even though Blue Origin hasn’t lived up to its lofty vision yet, more companies will mean more competition. “I’m not really disappointed with my pace like some people are,” said Ms. Garver. “I think they’ll get there. We need competition.”
Laura Seward Forzic, founder of aerospace consulting firm Astralytic, was also positive. “Although their progress has been slow, they haven’t had any major failures that indicate to me they are at risk,” she said. “Blue Origin is still finding its way out.”
Perhaps, Blue Origin could only become a successful, profitable aerospace company like Northrop Grumman or United Launch Alliance. “They don’t need to be like SpaceX to achieve their goals,” Ms Forczyk said.
Whatever the future of Blue Origin, Mr. Bezos was pleased at the end of Tuesday’s flight.
“You’ve got a really happy group of people in this capsule,” he told ground control.
Karen Weiss contributed reporting.