Jeff Bezos went beyond the 100km space border on 20 July on the first suborbital flight by his Blue Origin company. He was accompanied by his brother Mark, Oliver Daemen (18 years old) and Wally Funk (82 years old).
Founded in 2000 by the creator of the online sales giant Amazon, the Blue Origin company has been conducting test flights on its spacecraft New Shepard since 2015. The craft combines a recoverable launcher and capsule to put a suborbital space tourism service (a leap into space without going into orbit) on the market.
A LEAP TO 107 KM OF ALTITUDE
Blue Origin’s New Shepard takes off from Texas, from a base which was specially built for it. Until then, the programme had accumulated 15 flights (on four different models) without passengers. 20 July (a date chosen as a reference to the first steps on the Moon), therefore marked the first manned flight. Jeff Bezos himself was on board, to emphasise the confidence he has in the system perfected by his engineering teams, as Richard Branson, his competitor with Virgin Galactic, had done.
Jeff Bezos was accompanied by his brother Mark, Dutchman Oliver Daeman (18 years old) and American woman Wally Funk (82 years old). The latter two became respectively the youngest and oldest people in space (but not orbit).
Take-off took place after a little delay of around ten minutes. Below, a recording of the Blue Origin live feed (take-off at 1:43:11).
As with the other flights, the voyage barely lasted more than ten minutes. The capsule and its four passengers peaked at 107 km, crossing the internationally recognised space border at 100 km. It should be noted that the American Wally Funk realised at the age of 82 her dream of going into space. In the early 1960s, she was part of a group of thirteen women (the Mercury 13) which in a private initiative successfully passed all the tests required by NASA to become an astronaut. At the time, the agency suggested that it needed military test pilots, a profession from which the army excluded women. A situation which changed later.
Enthusiastic on her return, Wally Funk let it be known that she was ready to go on another flight! “The best day of my life!” exclaimed Jeff Bezos while landing under three parachutes.
MORE THAN TOURISM?
The American billionaire has never made a secret of his fascination for space.
While he was studying computer engineering at Princeton, he was even Chair of the local SEDS organisation (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space), a student association for the space sector. Blue Origin is banking on two more manned flights in 2021, with the intention of increasing the pace to host more and more clients. This type of very expensive flight (many hundreds of thousands of dollars) is creating opposition, particularly as regards the environmental footprint. In this regard, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin stress that their craft are not only used for tourist trips. Indeed, they can carry scientific experiments (automated or otherwise) which take advantage of the few minutes of weightlessness to carry out specific research. Moreover, during test flights (for both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin), experiments have already been carried. Space agencies (including NASA), universities and private laboratories have declared themselves interested.
In the press conference which followed the flight (see below), Jeff Bezos also developed a business case that suborbital space tourism with New Shepard is part of his intention to build facilities to access space which are both less expensive and more efficient (in terms of mass and frequency). For the billionaire, such long-term development is essential for the future of humanity and the conservation of the planet, whose fragility and beauty he said he admired at 107 km of altitude. The coming years will show whether all these announcements (science and infrastructure) come to fruition.