The richest man on the planet and founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos, successfully made his first flight into space in his own rocket New Shepard, a key moment for a space travel industry looking to make the final frontier accessible to elite tourists.
Blue Origin performed its first manned mission, a journey that took exactly 10.18 minutes from West Texas to beyond the Karman Line and vice versa, to coincide with the 52nd anniversary of the arrival on the Moon.
Along with Bezos was his brother Mark -who runs the foundation-, the aviator Wally Funk, who at 82 will be the oldest astronaut in history, and the Dutch Oliver Daemen, 18 years old, who will become the youngest to make such a journey.
Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson made the trip on July 11, narrowly beating the Amazon mogul in this battle of billionaires. But Bezos, like Branson, insists it is not a competition.
“There is a person who was the first person in space, his name was Yuri Gagarin, and that happened a long time ago,” he told the program TODAY on Monday on NBC, referencing the Soviet cosmonaut’s 1961 milestone.
“This is not a competition, it’s about building a path into space so future generations can do amazing things there.” He added.
Blue Origin is also looking higher: both in terms of how high its reusable New Shepard spacecraft will climb compared to Virgin’s space plane, and in terms of its ambitions.
Bezos, 57, founded Blue Origin in 2000 with the goal of one day building floating space colonies with artificial gravity where millions of people will work and live. Today, the company is developing an orbital rocket called New Glenn and a lunar lander that it hopes to contract with NASA.
New Shepard has performed 15 unmanned flights to put it to the test and test the safety mechanisms such as firing the capsule away from the launch pad if the rocket explodes, or landing with one less parachute.
“We learned how to make a vehicle safe enough that we are willing to put our loved ones in it and send them into space,” Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said in a briefing on Sunday.
The richest, the oldest, the youngest
Completing the quartet appears the younger brother and best friend of Jeff Bezos, Mark, who runs the Bezos Family Foundation and works as a volunteer firefighter.
It should be noted that the still anonymous winner of a $28 million auction for a seat will be absent, who had “scheduling problems” and will participate in a future flight.
Daemen’s father, CEO of a private equity firm, was second in the bidding, allowing his teenage son to become the company’s first paid client.
“The worst moment”
Blue Origin has remained relatively sparing about the immediate future. The company says it plans two more flights this year, and “many more” in 2022. Analysts note that much will depend on early successes and building a strong safety record.
Smith, the CEO, revealed on Sunday that the next launch could take place in September or October.
At the same time, the sector is beginning to face criticism for the optics of super-rich people blasting off into space as Earth faces weather-driven disasters and a coronavirus pandemic.
“Could there be a worse time than this for two super-wealthy rocket owners to take a quick walk into the dark?” Shannon Stirone wrote in an article in Atlantic.