It’s mission accomplished for Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin, the billionaire Amazon founder’s space travel company that carried the oldest, the youngest and the richest humans to have ever flown in space.
Blue Origin’s fully automated New Shepard rocket blasted off Tuesday from West Texas transporting Bezos, the world’s richest person; his brother Mark Bezos; aerospace pioneer Wally Funk, 82; and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old from the Netherlands.
“You have a very happy crew up here, I want you to know,” a male’s voice could be heard saying as the rocket soared amid a chorus of “woo hoo” thrill-ride whoops.
The four passengers were given three to four minutes to unbuckle their seatbelts and float around the capsule once they neared the edge of space.
The booster was the first component of the flight to return to earth, completing a vertical landing at the launch pad roughly seven minutes after takeoff. The crew members and New Shepard landed softly, slowed by parachutes, a few minutes later. The ride lasted 10 minutes.
Bezos was seen waving and giving a thumbs-up through a window of the capsule while preparing to disembark after successfully landing. The astronauts were enthusiastically greeted by friends, family, crew members and bottles of champagne. Among those present was Bezos’ girlfriend Lauren Sánchez.
Bezos, 57, has a fortune estimated at $205.1 billion. Despite this vast figure, he paid no federal income tax in 2007, 2011 or 2018, according to his tax returns obtained by ProPublica. Between 2014 and 2018, he paid a true tax rate of just 0.98%, even as his wealth grew by $99 billion.
Once back on solid ground, Bezos credited his extreme wealth for his ability to pioneer space travel.
“I also want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all of this,” he said at a news conference after the flight.
The rocket launch marked the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. It comes just days after billionaire businessman Richard Branson on July 11 flew to the edge of space, an altitude of around 50 miles, before returning to earth. New Shepard reached an altitude of about 66 miles.
Daemen is Blue Origin’s first paying customer. Funk is finally getting her trip six decades after training with 12 other female pilots, known as Mercury 13, for such a ride in the early 1960s. Funk takes the title for oldest person to fly to space from the late astronaut John Glenn, who flew to space for the last time at the age of 77.
Daemen secured his seat last minute after the winning bidder of his seat, which sold for $28 million last month, was unable to make the flight due to a scheduling conflict. That winner, who has not been identified, agreed to take a later flight.
The seat was given to Daemen after his father, who had taken part in the auction, agreed to a lower undisclosed price last week, The Associated Press reported.
Tuesday’s launch is the first by Blue Origin to feature people on board. The company has been testing its rocket since 2012 and says it has had 15 successful consecutive launches, including three successful escape tests.
Blue Origin plans two more passenger flights this year.