Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos blasted into space on Tuesday, July 20, in the first crewed flight of his company Blue Origin's new New Shepard rocket.
The rocket took off from Blue Origin's Launch Site One near Van Horn, Texas at 09:14 am EDT (13:14 UTC). The New Shepard launch vehicle’s crew capsule for this flight is called the RSS First Step.
Jeff Bezos was joined by his brother Mark Bezos, Wally Funk, an 82-year-old aviation pioneer whose life dream had been to reach space, and an 18-year-old student, Oliver Daemen, whose father is Blue Origin's first paying customer.
UPDATE July 20, 9:15 AM EDT: Capsule separation
The crew capsule separated from the New Shepard booster, propelling the RSS First Step capsule towards the Kármán Line.
UPDATE July 20, 9:16 AM EDT: RSS First Step crosses the Kármán Line
The RSS First Step crew capsule crossed the Kármán Line (62 miles from the Earth's surface), with launch broadcast presenter Ariane Cornell stressing that this is the "internationally recognized line of space."
Having crossed that line, the crew unbuckled from their seats to experience the views and float around in zero gravity.
UPDATE July 20, 9:19 AM EDT: Booster landing
The New Shepard booster performed an autonomous landing, the third consecutive landing for this booster.
At the same time, the Bezos brothers, Funk, and Daeman were still experiencing zero-g aboard the RSS First Step crew capsule.
UPDATE July 20, 9:22 AM EDT: Crew capsule landing
The crew capsule released its parachutes. Just before touchdown, multiple sensors detected the approaching ground and a burst of air came from underneath the capsule to enable a softer landing.
UPDATE July 20, 9:30 AM EDT: The crew safely exit RSS First Step capsule
The crew has exited the RSS First Step capsule, meaning that the entire experience from launch lasted just over 10 minutes.
Key Mission Stats from #NSFirstHumanFlight:— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) July 20, 2021
Crew capsule apogee: 347,563 ft AGL / 351,210 ft MSL (105 km AGL / 107 km MSL)
Booster apogee: 347,188 ft AGL / 350,835 ft MSL (105 km AGL / 106 km MSL)
Elapsed mission time: 10:10
Max ascent velocity: 2,233 mph (3,595 km/h)
The crew capsule reached an apogee of 351,210 feet and a maximum ascent velocity of 2,233 mph (3,595 km/h).
Billionaire space race fuels Kármán line debate
Blue Origin would argue that their private spaceflight today is the first to truly fly a billionaire into space. However, Virgin founder and billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson arguably made it to space first, on July 11, aboard one of Virgin Galactic's space airplanes.
It all depends on how, exactly, you define the boundary between space and Earth.
Unlike Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity, which is classified as a space airplane and doesn't fly over the Kármán Line, Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket is a vertical takeoff and landing rocket. Crucially, Blue Origin points out, it goes past the Kármán Line, which is 62 miles (100 km) from the Earth’s surface.
Blue Origin's director of astronaut sales Ariane Cornell, who presented the live launch broadcast, pointedly described the Kármán Line as the "internationally recognized line of space" more than once throughout the broadcast.
While that is, for the most part, true, the US Air Force and NASA actually consider the border of space to be 50 miles (80km) from the Earth's surface — Virgin Galactic's flight on July 11 reached an altitude of 53.5 miles.
Arguably, both companies will successfully meet their objectives of providing a life-changing experience by allowing space tourists to experience the overview effect first hand.
Blue Origin launch sends youngest and oldest astronauts in history to space
Today's Blue Origin launch took with it the oldest and youngest astronauts to ever fly to space.
At the age of 82, Wally Funk became the oldest astronaut to reach space. She was part of the Mercury 13 program of the 1960s, which trained women to go to space. The program was ultimately canceled without any of its participants reaching that objective, despite the fact that they passed the same physiological screening tests as male NASA astronauts of the time.
Oliver Daemen's father, Joes, CEO of a private equity firm in the Netherlands, is technically Blue Origin's first customer, having bid $28 million during an auction. He sent his son, Oliver, to space, making him the youngest astronaut in history.
Blue Origin aims to go to the moon
Blue Origin eventually aims to take New Shepard orbital as well as to the Moon. The company recently contested NASA's moon lander contract awarded to SpaceX, citing errors made by the US space agency in its decision-making process — NASA had to pick between Moon lander solutions developed by SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Dynetics.
The company says it aims to go beyond space tourism, though its focus is also on safely allowing humans to experience space for leisure. During the launch broadcast, Gary Lai, the Pathfininding Lead for Blue Origin, said he feels the New Shepard rocket is so safe he would allow his children to ride to space on the launch vehicle.
Blue Origin performed its first "astronaut rehearsal" in April this year, with stand-in astronauts entering the capsule before and after launch, though they did not stay on board the New Shepard for launch.
The second human flight for Blue Origin is already scheduled, and it will be one of two flights scheduled for this year — though the exact dates have not yet been disclosed. During the launch broadcast, Blue Origin's director of astronaut sales Ariane Cornell said the company had "already built a robust pipeline of customers that are interested."
Watch the entire launch broadcast, presented by Ariane Cornell, below.
This was a breaking news story and was updated as new information emerged.