VAN HORN, Texas – Jeff Bezos blasted into space Tuesday on his rocket company's first flight with people on board, 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 ever fly in space.
“Best day ever!” Bezos said when the capsule touched down on the desert floor in remote West Texas after the 10-minute flight.
Named after America's first astronaut, Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket soared on the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, a date chosen by Bezos for its historical significance. He held fast to it, even as Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson pushed up his own flight from New Mexico and beat Bezos to space by nine days.
The two private companies chasing space tourism dollars, though, have drawn criticism for catering to the rich while so many are struggling amid the pandemic.
During Tuesday's flight, Blue Origin's capsule reached an altitude of about 66 miles, more than 10 miles higher than Branson's July 11 ride. The 60-foot booster accelerated to Mach 3 or three times the speed of sound to get the capsule high enough, before separating and landing upright.
Bezos' capsule was completely automated and required no official staff on board for the up-and-down flight.
During their several minutes of weightlessness, video from inside the capsule showed the four floating, doing somersaults, tossing Skittles candies and throwing balls, with lots of cheering, whooping and exclamations of “Wow!” The Bezos brother also joined their palms to display a “HI MOM” greeting written on their hands. The capsule landed under parachutes, with Bezos and his guests briefly experiencing nearly six times the force of gravity on the way back.
Their flight lasted 10 minutes and 10 seconds – five minutes shy of 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 Bezos' adventure was Wally Funk, from the Dallas area, 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.
Joining them on the ultimate joyride was the company's first paying customer, Oliver Daemen, a last-minute fill-in for the mystery winner of a $28 million charity auction who opted for a later flight.