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Amazon's Jeff Bezos just launched himself to the edge of space

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson made the voyage on 11 July, narrowly beating Bezos.

Source: Sky News/YouTube

THE WEALTHIEST MAN on the planet Jeff Bezos rode his own rocket to the edge of space this afternoon, a key moment for a fledgling industry seeking to make the final frontier accessible to elite tourists.

Blue Origin made its first crewed mission, an 11-minute hop from west Texas to beyond the Karman line and back again, to coincide with the 52nd anniversary of the first Moon landing.

“#NewShepard is on the pad. The launch team completed vehicle rollout this morning and final preparations are underway,” the company tweeted today.

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson made the voyage on  11 July, narrowly beating the Amazon magnate in their battle of the billionaires.

But Blue Origin’s sights were set higher: both in the altitude to which its reusable New Shepard craft will ascend compared to Virgin’s spaceplane, but also in 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.

New Shepard has flown 15 uncrewed flights to put it through its paces and test safety mechanisms, like firing the capsule away from the launchpad if the rocket explodes, or landing it with one less parachute.

Lift-off was at 8am Central Time (2pm Irish time) from a remote facility in the west Texas desert called Launch Site One, some 40 kilometres north of the nearest town, Van Horn.

“Today is just the first of many flights to come on New Shepard,” Blue Origin’s sale director Ariane Cornell said in a livestream, adding ticket sales were now open.

Richest, oldest, youngest 

Joining Bezos was barrier-breaking female aviator Wally Funk, who at 82 was the oldest ever astronaut, and 18-year-old Dutchman Oliver Daemen, who has become the youngest.

Rounding out the quartet was Jeff Bezos’ younger brother and best friend Mark, who directs the Bezos Family Foundation and works as a volunteer firefighter.

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Notably absent is the still anonymous winner of a $28 million auction for a seat, who had “scheduling conflicts” and will take part in a future flight.

Daemen’s father, the CEO of a private equity firm, was a runner-up in the bidding, allowing his teenage son to become the company’s first paying customer.

After lift-off, New Shepard careened towards space at speeds exceeding 3700kph using a liquid hydrogen-liquid oxygen engine whose only byproduct is water vapor.

The capsule separated from its booster, and when it got high enough, the astronauts unbuckled and experienced weightlessness for three to four minutes.

The spacecraft peaks at 106 kilometres, allowing the crew members to admire the curvature of the planet, and the inky black of the rest of the universe.

The booster returns autonomously to a landing pad just north of its launch site, while the capsule freefalls back to Earth with three giant parachutes, and finally a thruster, for a gentle landing in the desert.

- © AFP 2021.

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