VAN HORN, Texas – Jeff Bezos blasted into space with people on the first flight of his rocket company on Tuesday, becoming the second billionaire in just over a week to ride his own spacecraft.
The Amazon founder was accompanied by a hand-picked group: his brother, an 18-year-old from the Netherlands, and an 82-year-old aviation pioneer from Texas—the youngest and oldest to fly in space.
“Best day ever!” Bezos said when the capsule landed on the desert floor in far west Texas after a 10-minute flight.
Named after America’s first astronaut, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket lifts off on the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, a date chosen by Bezos for its historical significance. He caught on to it fast, even as Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson spearheads his own flight from New Mexico in the race for space tourist dollars and beats them to space by nine days.
Unlike Branson’s piloted rocket plane, Bezos’s capsule was fully automated and the up-and-down flight required no official personnel on board.
Blue Origin reached an altitude of about 66 miles (106 kilometers), which is 10 miles (16 kilometers) higher than Branson’s July 11 ride. The 60-foot (18-meter) booster accelerated to Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound, to detach the capsule and get high enough before landing straight.
During their several minutes of weightlessness, the four in the video swim from inside the capsule, doing somersaults, tossing Skittles candies and throwing balls, “Whoa!” The Bezos brothers also joined their palms to display the greeting “HI MOM” written on their hands. The capsule descended by parachute, with Bezos and his guests experiencing about six times the force of gravity, or 6G, on the way back.
Led by Bezos, they exited the capsule after touchdown with wide grins, hugged parents, partners and children, then popped open bottles of sparkling wine, splashing each other.
“My expectations were very high and they were dramatically exceeded,” Bezos later said.
His flight lasted 10 minutes and 10 seconds – five minutes away from Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 flight in 1961. Shepard’s daughters, Laura and Julie, were introduced at a press event a few hours later.
Sharing the thrill of Bezos’s dreams coming true was Dallas-area Wally Funk, one of 13 female pilots who went through the same tests as NASA’s all-male astronaut corps in the early 1960s, but Never made it into space.
“I’ve been waiting a long time to finally get it there,” Funk said.
“I want to go again – fast,” she said.