SpaceX and NASA may be the names that first come to mind when talking about space, but this time it is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin which have hogged the limelight. This comes after Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin successfully launched the New Shepard rocket on Tuesday and landed it after a brief sojourn in space for about 10 minutes and 10 seconds. The flight contained four passengers, including the CEO, and rose over 60 miles into the sky above West Texas. The flight (along with its passengers) safely touched down on Earth.
Blue Origin wrote, “Congratulations to all of Team Blue past and present on reaching this historic moment in spaceflight history. This first astronaut crew wrote themselves into the history books of space, opening the door through which many after will pass,” hinting at the beginning of what could be the era of suborbital flights and the beginning of a new chapter in space tourism.
This also marked the first instance of the launch of a privately funded and built spacecraft by a commercial company from a private launch range with astronauts on board.
New Shepard, named after America’s first astronaut, took off from remote West Texas on a very notable day in the annals of man’s conquest of space, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. New Shepard is a fully autonomous spacecraft. The astronauts boarded the crew capsule 30 minutes before the launch and the hatch closed six minutes later. It consists of a reusable booster and a capsule on top, where the passengers were seated. The capsule detached from the rocket after it reached around 47 miles. While the booster landed vertically, the capsule descended under a parachute.
The passengers experienced about four minutes of free fall and were treated with views of Earth and the blackness of space from the capsule’s large windows.
You may remember that the auction of one of the seats aboard the New Shepard flight sent waved across the industry with the winning bid of $28 million by a “mystery bidder.” Unfortunately, we have to wait longer to know their identity since they were unable to join “due to scheduling conflicts.” Their place was taken by 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, one of the runners-up in the auction. The final passenger was 82-year-old Mary Wallace Frank, a former pilot.
In a way, the (brief) voyage of the New Shepard spacecraft created history as it took both the youngest and oldest people – Daemen and Frank – to ever go to space. Before this one, New Shepard has gone to space 15 times – without astronauts aboard – and the capsule landed safely every time. Undoubtedly, this will gain a place in the saga of the conquest of space, paving the way for humanity to reach for the stars in the years to come, spearheaded not by national agencies but by the commercial industry.
As surreal as this excursion was, it’s not the first one of its kind to happen in the past month. A few days ago, Richard Branson, the man behind Virgin Galactic, flew to space as well. Thus, there seems to be a new trend among the top 1%, and Elon, we are now looking at you.