Jeff Bezos blasted off into space Tuesday bringing along an aviation pioneer, a teen space fan and his brother, marking the first successful human spaceflight for his company Blue Origin.
After 15 previous successful launches of the New Shepard rocket from West Texas, Blue Origin marked a new milestone launching four crew members, two were invited guests of Bezos and one, the first paying customer.
New Shepard blasted off from the launchpad just after 9 a.m. sending Jeff and Mark Bezos, aviation pioneer and Mercury 13 member Wally Funk and Oliver Daeman, 18, of the Netherlands, on a 10-minute journey to the edge of space. The New Shepard capsule separated from the rocket booster at about 250,000 feet sending the capsule up to 66 miles above sea level.
The first crewed flight was scheduled for July 20 to mark the anniversary of Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 flight in 1961. Shepard’s two daughters, Laura and Julie, were there to watch the launch.
The commercial astronauts could be heard from audio in the capsule celebrating their time from launch to landing. Bezos brought some Skittles to share with the crew and Funk could be heard saying “woohoo!”
Video from inside the capsule showed the crew doing flips, giving hugs and passing around some ping pong balls.
After only a few minutes, an automated voice in the capsule told the crew to strap back in for landing.
Funk, a successful pilot, waited six decades to fly in space after being told no many times because of her gender. She has also paid for a seat with Blue Origin’s competitor, Virgin Galactic, to fly on SpaceShipTwo for another few minutes of weightlessness. Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson achieved spaceflight last week with his company.
Due to her six-decade wait, the 82-year-old became the oldest person in space.
During a post-launch news conference, Funk gave her honest review of the flight saying she “loved it” but there wasn’t enough room for everyone to do flips in the capsule. She also wished the zero-gravity time was longer than the four minutes they got.
Former NASA astronaut turned Blue Origin team member Jeff Ashby pinned commercial astronaut wings on the four passengers. The small pins have the letter A, wings and a tiny blue sapphire that represents Earth, Ashby said.
Daeman and Mark Bezos received their wings first and after pinning the wings on Jeff Bezos, the business mogul replied, “I’m so happy.”
Funk received her astronaut pin last to cheers and applause from the crowd in the Blue Origin barn in Texas.
“60 years, Wally and I get to pin this on,” Ashby said.
Funk replied, “this is the best pin I’ve ever had in my life and I’ve had a lot of them,” referring to her pilot wings and other accolades.
And after such a long wait, she’s itching to go again.
“I’ve been waiting a long time to finally get it up there,” Funk said. “I want to go again — fast.”
The four crew described their feelings during the launch and what it was like to float in space together.
“I felt so charged. I was not nervous,” Funk said. “I was just a normal person going into space.”
Mark and Jeff Bezos joked Funk not only didn’t have pre-flight jitters but was impatient to get her journey started. There were two holds during the countdown that delayed the liftoff by about 13 minutes.
“She was wondering what was taking so long,” Mark Bezos said.
Mark Bezos said he was surprised by the g-forces on the way back down. The New Shepard capsule slows from over 2,000 mph to 1 mph landing via parachutes about 2 miles from where it launched. The crew experienced about 6 G-forces.
“It was incredibly exhilarating,” Mark Bezos said.
Blue Origin continues to sign up paying customers to fly with New Shepard. Bezos revealed the company has already secured about $100 million in payments for upcoming flights.
Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos, who recently stepped down as Amazon CEO, plans to divide his time between working at Blue Origin and the Bezos Earth Fund. Asked if his next steps include more spaceflights, the richest man in the world replied, “Hell yes, how fast can you refuel that thing? Let’s go!”
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