Billionaire Jeff Bezos and his motley crew of space tourists launched to the edge of space Tuesday morning in Blue Origin’s reusable rocket.
If you haven’t heard, here are the spark notes: Bezos’ private space company Blue Origin launched humans for the first time in the New Shepard rocket from West Texas. It marked the 16th flight for a New Shepard booster and space capsule, which Blue Origin has been launching without people since 2015. The whole launch and landing takes about 10 minutes total, with only a few of those within space.
Early in the planning for this flight, Bezos announced he and his brother, Mark Bezos, 50, would be on board the company’s historic flight. After a $28 million winning bidder couldn’t fly due to a “scheduling conflict,” Blue Origin filled the third seat with runner-up 18-year-old Oliver Daeman. The fourth seat was occupied by female aviation pioneer Wally Funk, 82, who was among the women of the Mercury 13 test program in the 1960s. Funk and two other women took the same physical tests as NASA’s Mercury 7 astronauts, but none of them ever flew to space because NASA never supported the off-the-books program.
[Re-watch the historic landing in the video player at the top of this story and the launch below.]
The July 20 launch marked the anniversary of NASA astronaut Alan Shepard’s first spaceflight. New Shepard was named for the first American in space.
Click the arrows below to see the launch milestones.
Here’s an overview of what to expect during Blue Origin’s launch Tuesday in eastern time.
1 a.m. rocket rollout to the pad
The nearly 60-foot-tall New Shepard booster and spacecraft began the journey to the launchpad.
6 a.m. propellant load
Blue Origin began loading liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuel into the New Shepard booster.
7:30 a.m. ET (6:30 a.m. CT)
About 90 minutes prior to liftoff, Blue Origin started a livestream with countdown coverage, providing updates on the vehicle and the crew as they prepare for liftoff.
Astronauts strap in
At T-minus 45 minutes, the Bezos brothers, Funk and Daeman climbed up the stairs on the launch tower and into the New Shepard capsule.
Blue Origin targeted 9:13 a.m. ET for liftoff. New Shepard launched from the Texas facility powered by 3 BE-3 engines.
+2:45 minutes: Booster and capsule separation
The spacecraft separated from the New Shepard booster at 250,000 feet (75 kilometers). At this point the crew will have experienced up to three times the speed of sound.
+5 minutes: Spacecraft surpasses the Karman line
The spacecraft will reach a peak height of 66 miles above sea level (106 kilometers), surpassing the internationally recognized edge of space, known as the Karman line (55 miles/100 km). The crew will reach its peak height about seven minutes into the flight and the crew on board will have between three to four minutes of weightlessness.
“You’ll get to experience about three to four minutes of weightlessness again to gaze out of those big beautiful windows maybe do a couple of somersaults,” Blue Origin director of astronaut sales Ariane Cornell said. “I get the impression that Wally Funk, in particular, is pretty jazzed to be able to do some of those zero-Gs, but then we will ask them to get back in their seats, buckle back in (and) they will descend under three large parachutes.”
+7 minutes: Booster landing
The New Shepard booster will return to land about 2 miles from where it launched. The booster navigates back to Earth with help from fins, drag brakes and its BE-3 engine, touching down on four landing legs.
+8 minutes: Crew capsule return
The crew capsule begins to make its way back down to Earth.
+10-12 minutes: Touchdown
Aided by drogue parachutes, the crew capsule slows down to 2 mph before plopping down in the West Texas desert. Blue Origin teams will help the four crew members out of the capsule.