Jeff Bezos flies into space with his own rocket: “Best day ever”

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VAN HORN, Texas (AP) – Jeff Bezos exploded in space on Tuesday during his rocket company’s first flight with people on board, becoming the second billionaire in just over a week to pilot his own spacecraft .

The Amazon founder was accompanied by a hand-picked group: his brother, an 18-year-old Dutchman and an 82-year-old Texas aviation pioneer, the youngest and oldest to ever fly in. space.

In this photo provided by Blue Origin, from left to right: Mark Bezos, brother of Jeff Bezos; Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and space travel company Blue Origin; Oliver Daemen, from the Netherlands; and Texas aviation pioneer Wally Funk pose for a photo. (Blue origin via AP)

“Best day of my life!” Bezos said when the capsule landed on the desert floor at the end of the 10-minute flight.

Named after America’s first astronaut, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket took off from West Texas on the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, a date Bezos chose for its significance. historical. He stuck to it, even though Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson pushed his own flight from New Mexico into the race for space tourism dollars and beat him in the space of nine days.

Unlike Branson’s piloted rocket plane, Bezos’ capsule was fully automated and required no official personnel on board for the top-to-bottom flight.

Blue Origin reached an altitude of about 66 miles (106 kilometers), more than 10 miles (16 kilometers) higher than Branson’s ride on July 11. The 60-foot (18-meter) booster accelerated to Mach 3 or three times the speed of sound to get the capsule high enough, before splitting apart and landing upright.

Passengers had several minutes of weightlessness to float around the spacious white capsule. The window-filled capsule landed under parachutes, with Bezos and his guests briefly experiencing nearly six times the force of gravity, or 6 G, on the way back.

Led by Bezos, they stepped out of the capsule after landing with wide smiles, hugging parents, partners and children, then opened bottles of sparkling wine, spraying each other.

Wally Funk, from the Dallas area, shared the adventure of Bezos’ dream come true, one of 13 female pilots who underwent the same tests as NASA’s all-male astronaut corps in the early 1960s but have never been in space.

The company’s first paying customer, Oliver Daemen, joined at the last minute the mysterious winner of a $ 28 million auction who opted for a later theft. The Dutch teenager’s father took part in the auction and agreed to an undisclosed lower price last week when Blue Origin offered his son the vacant seat.

“I have goose bumps,” Angel Herrera said after the capsule landed. “The hair at the back of my neck stood on end, just testifying to the story.”

Herrera, who lives in El Paso, was one of a few dozen people who watched the launch from inside Van Horn High School, about 25 miles away.

Blue Origin – founded by Bezos in 2000 in Kent, Washington, near Amazon’s Seattle headquarters – has not disclosed its price for space travel. Two more passenger flights are planned by the end of the year, said Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin.

The recycled rocket and capsule that carried Tuesday’s passengers were used in the last two space demonstrations, company officials said.

Virgin Galactic already has over 600 reservations at $ 250,000 each. Founded by Branson in 2004, the company has sent crews into space four times and is planning two more test flights from New Mexico before launching customers next year.

Blue Origin’s approach was slower and more deliberate. After 15 successful unoccupied test flights in space since 2015, Bezos has finally said it’s time to get people on board. The Federal Aviation Administration agreed last week, approving the commercial space license.

Bezos, 57, also owner of the Washington Post, won the first seat. The next went to his 50-year-old brother Mark Bezos, investor and volunteer firefighter, then to Funk and Daemen. They spent two days together in training.

University of Chicago space historian Jordan Bimm said the roster of passengers was truly remarkable. Imagine if the head of NASA decided he wanted to launch in 1961 instead of Alan Shepard on America’s first space flight, he said in an email.

“It would have been unthinkable! Said Bimm. “” It shows how much the idea of ​​who and what for space has changed over the past 60 years. “

Bezos resigned earlier this month as CEO of Amazon and last week he donated $ 200 million to renovate the National Air and Space Museum. Most of the $ 28 million from the auction went to space advocacy and education groups, with the remainder going to Blue Origin’s Future Club, its own education effort.

Less than 600 people have reached the edge of space or beyond. Until Tuesday, the youngest was 25-year-old Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov and the oldest at 77 was Mercury astronaut-turned-commuter John Glenn.

Bezos and Branson both want to dramatically increase those overall numbers, as does SpaceX’s Elon Musk, who jumps brief jumps into space and sends his private clients directly into orbit for tens of millions each, with the first flight slated for September. .

Despite appearances, Bezos and Branson insist that they weren’t trying to outdo each other by bonding. Bezos noted this week that only one person can claim to be the first in space: Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who entered orbit on April 12, 1961.

“It’s not a competition, it’s about building a road to space so that future generations can do amazing things in space,” he said on “Today” from NBC.

Blue Origin is working on a massive rocket, New Glenn, to put payloads and people into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The company also wants to put astronauts back on the moon with its Blue Moon lunar lander project; he questions the awarding of the only NASA contract to SpaceX.


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