The richest man on the planet has made his dream come true. American Jeff Bezos boarded the first manned flight of his company Blue Origin, marking a new milestone for the burgeoning space tourism industry.
The New Shepard thruster, with a capsule carrying four people at its top, took off at 8:11 a.m. (3:11 p.m. in France), a few minutes behind schedule, from an isolated site in the western desert of Texas, at 40 km from the small town of Van Horn.
Along with Jeff Bezos on board this fully autonomous flight were his brother Mark, aviation pioneer Wally Funk, 82, and Blue Origin’s first paying customer, an 18-year-old Dutchman Oliver Daemen, who became the oldest and youngest astronaut respectively in history.
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New Shepard accelerated into space using an engine running on liquid hydrogen and oxygen, with no carbon emissions.
The capsule then separated from its propellant and the neo-astronauts spent a few minutes at an altitude of 107 km, beyond the Karman line (100 km), internationally recognized limit between Earth’s atmosphere and space. .
A flight of about ten minutes
They were able to admire the curve of the blue planet and the deep black of the rest of the universe, from large picture windows accounting for a third of the cabin area. “It’s all black in here,” exclaimed Wally Funk, according to the audio stream from the capsule.
After a few minutes in zero gravity, the capsule descended in free fall before deploying three giant parachutes, then activating a back-prop to land gently in the desert after a flight of about ten minutes.
When they left, the four passengers, in good shape, were greeted by cries of joy from the Blue Origin teams. Jeff Bezos sported a cowboy hat.
Congratulations from NASA
The main thruster returned autonomously to a landing area near the launch site.
The mission comes on the 52nd anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s first steps on the moon.
“Congratulations,” Nasa tweeted, saying it was “looking forward to the upcoming flights with researchers and shipments” of technology equipment from the US space agency.
“Well done”, for his part greeted on Twitter the British billionaire Richard Branson, who had combed Jeff Bezos to the post while flying into space on July 11 in a Virgin Galactic plane. But it had only reached an altitude of 86 km.
The 57-year-old former CEO of Amazon, however, insisted before the flight on the fact that this little tour in space “is not a competition”. “It’s about building a road to space so that future generations can do incredible things there,” he said Monday on NBC.
The founder of Amazon created Blue Origin in 2000 with the goal, one day, of building floating space colonies, endowed with artificial gravity and where millions of people could work and live. Today the company is developing a high thrust orbital rocket called New Glenn, but also a moon landing module in the hope of securing a contract with NASA and its Artemis program, and becoming the agency’s main private partner. American space.
Other flights in 2021
This first manned flight from Blue Origin was also the first carrying a paying passenger. Oliver Daemen replaced the original winner of the online auctions held in mid-July, which paid for his $ 28 million ticket but decided to pass his turn.
Wally Funk, a member of the Mercury 13 female astronaut training project, had to give up her dream because of the sexism in the 1960s. She had promised to make the most of the trip.
Blue Origin plans two more launches this year and “many more” as early as 2022, despite the price of this express round trip. “There is obviously a great interest” and the first flights “are leaving at a very good price”, assured the general manager of Blue Origin, Bob Smith.
A third billionaire, Elon Musk and his company SpaceX, will join the space race in September with an orbital expedition made up entirely of civilians aboard his Crew Dragon rocket. SpaceX has also teamed up with the company Axiom to take visitors aboard the International Space Station.
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These expensive expeditions are also attracting criticism, in a context of repeated climatic disasters and the coronavirus pandemic. “The Covid-19 has brought pain, suffering and death to Americans. And we should be concerned about billionaires who travel to the borders of space?”, Asked the elected Democrat Hakeem Jeffries.