Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos and three others landed safely after Blue Origin's first flight to space with passengers aboard, a key milestone in the company's effort to make space tourism viable.
Jeff Bezos, the world's richest person, and three crewmates boarded his company Blue Origin's New Shepard launch vehicle on Tuesday in the West Texas desert, a milestone flight set to help usher in a new era of private space travel.
The company's capsule touched down in West Texas at about 8:22 a.m. local time Tuesday, roughly 10 minutes after it launched on Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket. The crew experienced a few moments of weightlessness as the spaceship soared past the Karman line at an altitude of about 62 miles (100 km) above the Earth. The capsule then parachuted back.
Best day ever
"Best day ever," Bezos said on a livestream of the suborbital flight provided by Blue Origin, shortly before the capsule landed.
He then exited the capsule, wearing a cowboy hat, with his fellow passengers: his brother, Mark; Wally Funk, 82, a former astronaut trainee; and Oliver Daemen, the 18-year-old son of a Dutch financier. Funk was the oldest person to travel to space and Daemen the youngest.
The mission caps a landmark month for space-tourism ventures, following by nine days a trip to the heavens by U.K. billionaire Richard Branson on a special plane made by Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc., a rival to Blue Origin. Both companies are set to expand operations with plans to entice super-wealthy customers to pay big money for a unique travel experience.
"Impressive!" Branson said in a tweet after the Blue Origin trip. "Very best to all the crew from me and all the team at @virgingalactic."
Suspense and hype
Blue Origin built suspense around the flight with a well-publicized auction. An anonymous bidder offered $28 million to fly alongside Bezos, but what Blue Origin described as a timing conflict left an opening for Daemen.
On July 11, billionaire Richard Branson demonstrated his rival company's capabilities by boarding a Virgin Galactic vessel and flying to a lower altitude of 53.5 miles, where passengers also experienced weightlessness. Highly publicized excursions by their billionaire founders are likely to serve as a vote of confidence in the safety of the joy rides the companies want to sell to wealthy tourists.
Bezos, 57, said he's planned on traveling to space since he was five years old. He started Amazon as an online book business from his Seattle garage in 1994 and turned it into the world's largest online retailer, making him the wealthiest man on the planet with a net worth exceeding $200 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
He's been selling Amazon stock to fund Blue Origin, which is based in Kent, Washington, now has 3,500 employees and also builds rocket engines used to launch satellites. Bezos stepped down as Amazon CEO earlier this month to become executive chairman of the e-commerce giant.
Branson's flight earlier this month stole some thunder from Bezos' launch and prompted social-media jousting. Blue Origin dissed the Virgin Galactic flight in a July 9 tweet, calling it a "high altitude airplane" with puny windows. Blue Origin says it has the biggest windows in space. On Monday, Virgin Galactic on Twitter wished the Blue Origin team a "successful and safe flight."
Despite the fight for space tourism buzz, the ultimate goal is to make such trips routine on rockets that are reused like airplanes. The New Shepard booster returned to a landing pad so it can be reused rather than breaking apart in the atmosphere.
Reusable rockets are key to lowering the cost of space travel, which could make it more accessible. Blue Origin hasn't disclosed the expected price of future space trips or the amount paid by the teenager.