Amazon founder Jeff Bezos rocketed into space Tuesday on his company’s first flight with passengers aboard, becoming the second billionaire to use his own spacecraft to become an astronaut.
The flight went off without a hitch, blasting off right on schedule, soaring to an apogee of 351,210 feet (66.51 miles), then plunging back to Earth.
In a status check of all passengers after the capsule landed in a plume of dust, the Amazon founder said “astronaut Bezos: best day ever.”
Bezos was accompanied into space by three people: his brother, Mark, an 82-year-old aviation pioneer from Texas, an 18-year-old physics student from the Netherlands and — the oldest and youngest people ever to blast into space.
When the rocket reached 60,000 feet, the passengers were traveling at 1,000 mph. By 125,000 feet, they were moving at 2,000 mph, reaching a top speed of 2,200 mph a short time later. At 325,000, the passengers unlatched their seat belts and floated around the capsule, enjoying weightlessness for a few minutes. Cries of “Whoo hoo!” passed down to Earth via the ship’s communication system.
“It’s dark up here!” said Wally Funk, one of 13 female pilots who passed the same tests as NASA’s all-male astronaut corps in the early 1960s but never got a chance to go to space. On the way back to Earth, she exclaimed: “2,000 miles per hour! Oh my word!”
A sonic boom filled the air as the booster rocket returned to earth and successfully landed just a few feet from dead center of the launch pad. A short time later, the capsule — with the passengers experiencing six G’s of force — appeared in the sky. Three small parachutes blasted out at 3,000 feet followed by three large ones, bouncing the capsule back up in altitude. A CNN graphic said the capsule was traveling 16 mph when it landed, jetting out a circle of dust.
A day before his flight, Bezos, one of a slew of billionaires who are ignoring all the woes on Planet Earth as they head to space on their own private rockets, acknowledges that their flights “are just joyrides.”
In an interview Monday on CNN, Bezos, whose Blue Origin rocket is set to blast into space on Tuesday, was asked by host Rachel Crane about his upcoming flight. “There have been a chorus of critics saying that these flights to space are just joyrides for the wealthy and that you should be spending your time and your money and energy trying to solve problems here on Earth. So what do you say to those critics?”
“Well, I say they’re largely right. We have to do both,” Bezos said. “We have lots of problems here and now on Earth and we need to work on those, and we always need to look to the future. We’ve always done that as a species, as a civilization. We have to do both.”
Bezos defended the space flights, saying Blue Origin’s mission is about opening space travel for everyone. “If we can do that, then we’ll be building a road to space for the next generations to do amazing things there, and those amazing things will solve problems here on Earth… So, the real answer is, yes, we have to do both,” he said.
Bezos soared higher than Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson, who earlier this month flew to 53 miles above Earth as he became the first person in history to use his own vehicle to go to space.
Before Branson’s flight, Team Bezos threw some shade at the billionaire.
“Only 4% of the world recognizes a lower limit of 80 km or 50 miles as the beginning of space. New Shepard flies above both boundaries. One of the many benefits of flying with Blue Origin,” they wrote on Twitter.
And they tossed out another dig: “From the beginning, New Shepard was designed to fly above the Kármán line so none of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name. For 96% of the world’s population, space begins 100 km up at the internationally recognized Kármán line.”
The Kármán line is named after Theodore von Kármán, a Hungarian American engineer and physicist who was active in aeronautics and astronautics and lived from 1881 to 1963. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), an international body for aeronautics and astronautics that sets standards and keeps records, defines the Kármán line as the altitude of 100 kilometers, or 62 miles (about 330,000 feet), above Earth’s mean sea level.
But the U.S. puts the line of outer space at 50 miles. “It’s also roughly the altitude that was used by the U.S. Air Force in the 1950s when it gave out astronaut wings to test pilots who flew over 50 miles (80 km) high,” according to astronomy.com.
On July 10, Branson won the space race among his fellow billionaires, becoming the first earthling to soar into space in his own vehicle. In a roughly 14-minute flight, Branson, 71, the founder of Virgin Airlines and now Virgin Galactic, beat out Bezos and fellow billionaire Elon Musk, whose SpaceX company plans to soar even higher in a September flight.
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