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Blue Origin rockets take Jeff Bezos to space


Alongside the multi-billionaire were Bezos’ brother Mark Bezos; Wally Funk, an 82-year-old pilot and one of the “Mercury 13” women who trained to go to space in the 20th century but could never fly; and an 18-year-old high school graduate named Oliver Daemen who was Blue Origin’s first paying customer and whose father, an investor, bought his ticket.

Funk and Daemen became the oldest and youngest people to ever travel to space, respectively. And that flight marked the first-ever crewed mission of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital space tourism rocket, which the company plans to use to take wealthy thrill seekers on high-flying rides in the months and months. years to come.

On Tuesday, the four passengers buckled onto their New Shepard crew pod at the Blue Origin launch site in West Texas, just before the rocket fired its engines at 8:12 a.m. CT, sending the vehicle to- beyond the speed of sound and up to more than 65 miles above the desert landscape, culminating at an elevation of 351,210 feet. At the top of the flight path, passengers were weightless for about three minutes and were allowed to break away from their seats to float and soak up a panoramic view of Earth and the cosmos.

The launch was visible to reporters on the ground, with the rocket crossing the near cloudless Texas sky with a contrail. The bright flame of the rocket engine almost looked like a star or a planet when it soared into the sky. Bezos and the crew could be heard on the Blue Origin livestream cheering as they moved around the capsule during the microgravity portion of the flight.

“It’s dark in here, oh my word! You could hear Funk say.

Bezos said it was “the best day ever” during his landing communications check.

Why is Bezos doing this?

Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000, just six years after launching Amazon, with the goal of making spaceflight more affordable and accessible. A few of its rivals in the industry – notably Elon Musk and Richard Branson – both launched their space businesses around the same time.

While Bezos’ alien ambitions are high, involving rotating orbital space stations where people live and work, the New Shepard suborbital vehicle is the first fully operational space hardware the company has developed.
And just like Branson and Virgin Galactic only made nine A few days ago, Bezos decided to become one of the first people to board the space tourism spacecraft as a sign of confidence in the safety of the vehicle.

“We know the vehicle is safe,” Bezos told CNN Business’s Rachel Crane on Monday. “If it’s not safe for me, then it’s not safe for anyone.”

Who can fly on New Shepard?

So far, reservations have only been offered to attendees of an auction concluded by Blue Origin last month. The winner, a mystery bidder who agreed to pay $ 28 million for a ticket, was due to be on Tuesday’s space flight, although the person made the surprise decision to reschedule a later mission due to “scheduling conflicts.” , according to the company.

Blue Origin said it plans to fly up to two more New Shepard passenger flights this year. But the company did not say whether it would set a public price for the tickets, or how much Daemen, the 18-year-old Dutchman who flew with Bezos, had to pay for his seat. The company declined numerous requests for additional information on ticket prices.

But the company says the auction gave a strong indication that there are a lot of people eager to go: 7,600 people from 159 countries have signed up to participate in the auction war.

What does all this mean?

There has been a lot of backlash on billionaires in space, including a recent online petition that garnered over 162,000 signatures demanding that Bezos never return to Earth.

Bezos, who is worth around $ 200 billion, has funded the company almost entirely out of his own pocket. And the repeated promises of benevolence and benefit to a ravaged Earth have the ultra-rich fearful of seeing outer space as their own personal escape route.

Yet Blue Origin and other billionaire-backed space companies have talked a lot about their technologies paving the way for a “democratization” of space in which ordinary people – not just government-trained astronauts – can live. the thrill of space flight. These first suborbital space tourism flights will be prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of people, and that shouldn’t change anytime soon.

But this is how Blue Origin describes its long-term vision:

Blue Origin was founded by Jeff Bezos with the vision of enabling a future where millions of people live and work in space for the benefit of Earth. To preserve Earth, Blue Origin believes humanity will need to expand , explore, find new energy and material resources and move industries that stress Earth into space. Blue Origin is working on this today by developing partially and fully reusable launchers that are safe, low cost and meet the needs of all civilian, commercial and defense customers, ”the company said in a press release.

It is still early days, of course. The New Shepard rocket and capsule system is suborbital, which means it doesn’t build up enough energy to stay in space for more than a few minutes. But the company is working on a much larger rocket for this purpose – called New Glenn – and a lunar lander which it hopes will be used to support NASA missions.

Bezos has also spoken in the past about the O’Neill colonies, a concept of rotating space stations that can mimic Earth’s gravity for passengers, being a possible habitat for future inhabitants of space.

Who will own the space stations? And will the passengers be employees or tourists? Will space travel, so necessary to save humanity, be accessible only to those who can afford to pay? And is Bezos’ time and money better spent trying to solve earthly problems rather than trying to escape them?

We do not know. There are plenty of unanswered questions and raging debates.

CNN’s Rachel Crane asked Bezos about the pushback on Monday.

“They are largely right,” Bezos said of critics who say billionaires should focus their energy – and their money – on issues closer to home. “We have to do both. We have a lot of problems here and now on Earth and we have to work on it, and we have to always look to the future. We have always done this as a species, as a civilization. “

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