Bezos takes his maiden rocket ride into space
Jeff Bezos, the world's richest man, and three crewmates soared high above the Texas desert aboard his space venture Blue Origin's New Shepard launch vehicle yesterday and returned safely to Earth, a historic suborbital flight that helps to inaugurate a new era of private commercial space tourism.
The spacecraft ignited its BE-3 engines for a liftoff from Blue Origin's Launch Site One facility about 32 kilometers outside the rural town of Van Horn, flying about 107km above the planet's surface. There were generally clear skies with a few patchy clouds on a cool morning for the launch.
The 57-year-old American billionaire flew on a voyage lasting about 10 minutes and 20 seconds to the edge of space, nine days after Briton Richard Branson was aboard his competing space tourism company Virgin Galactic's successful inaugural suborbital flight from New Mexico.
New Shepard was designed to hurtle at speeds upwards of 3,540kph to an altitude beyond the so-called Karman line – 100km – set by an international aeronautics body as defining the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and space.
Soft-landing in Texas
After the capsule separated from the booster, the crew was due to have unbuckled for a few minutes of weightlessness. Then the capsule returned to Earth under parachutes, using a last-minute retro-thrust system that expelled a "pillow of air" for a soft landing in the Texas desert.
Bezos gave a thumbs-up from inside the capsule after landing on the desert floor before stepping out, wearing a cowboy hat and blue flight suit, and giving company employees high fives.
The mission was part of a fiercely competitive battle between Bezos' Blue Origin and fellow billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic to tap a potentially lucrative space tourism market the Swiss bank UBS estimates will be worth US$3 billion annually in a decade.
Bezos and the other passengers climbed into an SUV for a short drive to the launch pad before walking up a tower and getting aboard the gleaming white spacecraft, with a blue feather design on its side. Each passenger rang a shiny bell before boarding.
Branson got to space first, but Bezos was due to fly higher – 100km compared with Branson's 86km.