Washington: Jeff Bezos, the world's richest man, spent a few minutes in space on Blue Origin's first human mission on Tuesday, a watershed event for a budding industry attempting to make the ultimate frontier accessible to wealthy tourists.
"This capsule has a very happy group of people," Bezos remarked after the spaceship landed in the west Texas desert after a 10-minute journey to the Karman line and returned.
The four-person crew exchanged high-fives and hugged family members who had gathered at the landing site to greet them.
The New Shepard spacecraft had previously reached an altitude of 66.5 miles (107 kilometres), allowing occupants to feel weightless while studying the Earth's arc.
"It's dark up here," remarked Wally Funk, a pioneering female aviator who accompanied Bezos, his brother, and 18-year-old Dutchman Oliver Daemen, who became the world's youngest astronaut.
Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Galactic, completed the journey on July 11, barely defeating Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in a battle of billionaires.
Blue Origin, on the other hand, had loftier goals, both in terms of the altitude to which its reusable New Shepard ship would ascend in comparison to Virgin's spaceplane and in terms of its aims.
Blue Origin was launched by Bezos, who is 57 years old, in 2000 with the goal of one day establishing floating space colonies with artificial gravity where millions of people may work and live.
Today, the business is working on a New Glenn heavy-lift orbital rocket as well as a Moon lander that it hopes to sell to NASA.
The New Shepard suborbital rocket, named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space, had completed 15 uncrewed flights to put it through its paces and test safety measures.
The launch took place at 1312 GMT from Launch Site One, a remote location in the west Texas desert about 25 miles (40 kilometres) north of the nearest town, Van Horn.
"While it may have appeared simple today, it was everything from simple," New Shepard's principal designer, Gary Lai, remarked.
The wealthiest, the oldest, and the youngest
The winner of a $28 million auction for a seat was noticeably absent, owing to "scheduling issues" and having to fly on a later flight.
Daemen's father, the CEO of a private equity business, came in second place in the bidding, allowing his adolescent son to become the firm's first paying customer.
After lift-off, New Shepard careened towards space at velocities surpassing 2,300 mph (3700 kph), powered to a liquid hydrogen-liquid oxygen engine.
The capsule detached from its launcher, and when it reached a safe altitude, the astronauts unbuckled and spent three to four minutes in space.
The launcher returned autonomously to a landing pad just north of its launch site, while the capsule landed gently on Earth using three enormous parachutes and a thruster.
'Take a look around the room'
Blue Origin has been tight-lipped about its plans for the future.
The company intends two additional flights this year and "many more" next year, according to the corporation.
Early accomplishments and establishing a solid safety record, according to analysts, will be crucial.
The next launch, according to CEO Bob Smith, might happen in September or October, and "willingness to pay continues to be pretty high."
At the same time, the industry is coming under fire for the optics of super-wealthy people blasting off into space while Earth is dealing with climate-related crises and a coronavirus epidemic.
"Could there be a more inopportune time for two ultra-wealthy rocket owners to take a brief trip into the unknown?" "Space Billionaires, Please Read the Room," writes Shannon Stirone in an Atlantic article.
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